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Senate President Steve Sweeney. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe).

Sweeney undecided on raising judicial retirement age

Senate president weighing opportunity, age expectancy

By Nikita Biryukov, May 13 2021 3:48 pm

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) is unprepared to back raising the mandatory retirement age for judges.

“I haven’t really taken a position on it,” he told the New Jersey Globe Wednesday. “There’s two sides to it. If there’s mandatory retirement, then there’s opportunity for other people to move up into the spots. The other argument is what they said with the constitution: 70’s not what 70 was in 1947, so I haven’t really put a lot of weight into it.”

In New Jersey, judges — even tenured ones — must leave the bench once they turn 70. That number was enacted by the state’s 1947 constitution and has remained unchanged since despite leaps in New Jerseyans’ life expectancy.

The National Center for Health Statistics pegged average life expectancy for American men at 62 in 1947. (The State Supreme Court got its first female member in 1982.)

In the intervening decades, that number has risen to 76.

Those shifts haven’t been ignored by the legislature. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden), the chamber’s judiciary chairman, last year introduced a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the Senate to approve judges and justices who would have aged out of the bench for additional two-year terms.

Senate Judiciary Vice-chair Nellie Pou (D-Paterson) in February told the New Jersey Globe lawmakers should absolutely consider increasing the retirement age.

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