Court View Inside banner image

Mandatory judicial retirement

September 30, 2020

As Americans live longer, a persistent question is how long they can remain active in the workforce. While most government officials have no age limit to their service, the same is not true for the majority of state judges. This situation is unique to the United States. As a recent article in The Atlantic noted, in most major Western democracies and the majority of U.S. states judges are subject to some kind of mandatory judicial retirement. The question is: why?

First, it should be noted that mandatory judicial retirement ages came into the United States relatively early on. For example, New York placed a mandatory judicial retirement age of 60 for its judges shortly after the Revolution. When writing the Federalist Papers for a mostly New York audience, Alexander Hamilton noted this practice and how it would not apply to federal judges (who would serve "during good behavior"). The concern expressed at the time was that judges would age into "inability", shorthand for judges that were physically and/or mentally unable to continue in office.

Second, the practice arose at a time when there was little to no recourse to remove a judge who had reached the point of "inability." The only real option for removing a judge at the time was to conduct an impeachment proceeding which was both time-consuming and difficult to put together at a time when state legislatures only met for a few months a year.

Since then states have developed ways to address judges who have aged into "inability" via removal processes associated with judicial disciplinary and/or fitness proceedings. Nevertheless, most states still impose a mandatory retirement age on judges, as seen in the table below. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the practice in 1991 in Gregory v. Ashcroft (501 U.S. 452). Moreover, when the question is placed on the ballot (as is necessary where the age is put into the state's constitution) voters tend to reject efforts to increase or eliminate such ages.

NCSC has produced several products on the question of judicial retirement in the last several years.

Do judges in your state have a mandatory retirement age? Should they? Follow the National Center for State Courts on FacebookTwitterInstagram, or Pinterest, and share your experiences! For more information, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.

Judicial Retirement Ages

StateAppellate JudgesTrial JudgesBasis for Age: Constitution or StatuteNotes
Alabama 70 70 Constitution: Art. VI, Sec. 155 (Amended), Amendment 328 May not be elected or appointed after 70.
Alaska 70 70 Constitution: Art. IV, Sec. 11  
Arizona 70 70/Varies Constitution: Art. VI, Secs. 20 & 39 Municipal courts: Varies. 2012 constitutional amendment to raise to 75 rejected by voters (27% yes)
Arkansas 70 70 Arkansas law does not specify a retirement age for judges, however a judge that fails to resign at the end of the term in which they reach 70 forfeits all pension/retirement benefits. See Arkansas Code § 24-8-215(c) Retirement statute upheld by state supreme court in 2016 in Landers v. Stone (2016 Ark. 272496 S.W.3d 370)
California     
Colorado 72 72 Constitution: Art. VI, Sec. 23  
Connecticut 70 70 Constitution: Art. V, Sec. 6  
Delaware     
District of Columbia 74 74 Statute: 1-204.31(c)  
Florida 75 75 Constitution: Art. V, Sec. 8 Increase from 70 to 75 as part of Amendment 6 of 2018.
Georgia   Some but not all Municipal courts have mandatory retirement ages.   
Hawaii 70 70 Constitution: Art. VI, Sec. 3 2014 constitutional amendment to raise age to 80 rejected (22% yes)
Idaho     
Illinois * * Constitution: Art. 6, Sec. 15 May serve out term in which turns 75. Statute was declared by the Supreme Court of Illinois to be unconstitutional, as written, because the Act violated the doctrine of equal protection. See: Maddux v. Blagojevich, 233 Ill. 2d 508 (2009).
Statute: 705 ILCS 55/1*  
Indiana 75   Statute: IC 33-38-13-8  
Iowa 72 72 Statute: 602.1610  
Kansas 75 75 Statute: 20-2608(a) May serve out term in which turns 75.
Kentucky     
Louisiana 70 70/None Constitution: Art. V, Sec. 23 May serve out term in which turns 70. Mayors’ court judges have no age limit. 2014 constitutional amendment to repeal failed (42% yes)
Maine     
Maryland 70 70/None Constitution: Art. IV, Sec. 3 Orphan’s Court judges have no mandatory retirement age.Retirement age upheld in Bernstein v. Maryland, 674 F.Supp. 2d 703 (D. Md. 2009), and Bernstein v. State, 422 Md. 36, 29 A.3d 267 (2011).
Massachusetts 70 70 Constitution: Art. 1, Part 2, Ch. 3  
Michigan 70 70 Constitution: Art. VI, Sec. 19 May not be elected or appointed after 70.
Minnesota 70 70 Constitution: Art. 6, Sec. 9 May serve to end of month turns 70.
Statute: 490.121(21d) & 490.125  
Mississippi     
Missouri 70 70/75 Constitution: Art. V, Sec. 26 70 for Circuit Court, 75 for Municipal Court.
Statute: 479.020(7)   
Montana     
Nebraska     
Nevada     
New Hampshire 70 70 Constitution: Art. 78  
New Jersey 70 70 Constitution: Art. XI, Sec. IV  
New Mexico     
New York 70 70/None Constitution: Art. VI, Sec. 25 Generally: May serve until end of year in which 70 is reached. Town/Village: No age limit. 2013 constitutional amendment to raise age rejected (40% yes)
North Carolina 72 72 Constitution: Art. IV, Sec. 6 May serve to end of month turns 72.
Statute: 7A-4.20  
North Dakota     
Ohio 70 70/None Constitution: Art. IV, Sec. 6 Section interpreted as meaning may serve until end of term turns 70. Mayors’ court judges have no age limit. 2011 constitutional amendment to raise to 75 rejected by voters (38% yes).
Oklahoma     
Oregon 75 75 Constitution: Art. VII (Amended), Sec. 1a Constitution allows age to be reduced to as low as 70 by statute or initiative. Constitutional Amendment to repeal rejected by voters in 2016.
Pennsylvania 75 75 Constitution: Art. V, Sec. 16 May serve until end of year in which 75 is reached. Constitutional amendment raising age to 75 approved by 50.88% of voters in November 2016.
Rhode Island     
South Carolina 72 72/None South Carolina law does not specify a retirement age for judges, however a judge that fails to resign at 72 does not obtain pension/retirement benefits. See South Carolina Code § 9-8-40 & 9-8-60 No limit for Probate or Municipal Courts.
South Dakota 70 70 Statute: 16-1-4.1 May serve into the January after attaining age 70.
Tennessee     
Texas 74 74/None Constitution: Art. 5, Sec. 1-a Legislature may set at any age from 70 to 75. District & Criminal District Court: May serve out term in which turns 75 if completed at least 4 years of 6 year term. Municipal: Varies. All other trial courts: No limit.
Utah 75 75 Constitution: Art. VIII, Sec. 15  
Statute: 49-18-701  
Vermont 90 90 Constitution: Sec. 35 Legislature may set anywhere from end of the calendar year in which judge attains 70 to end of the term when judge attains 90. Legislature has opted for end of year attain 90.
Statute: 4-609  
Virginia 73 73 Constitution: Art. VI, Sec. 9 May serve until 20 days after the convening of the next regular session of the General Assembly. Increase from 70 to 73 for all appellate judges and some trial judges approved by legislature in 2015 (HB 1984). Increase from 70 to 73 for remaining trial judges approved in 2016 (HB 1245).
Statute: 51.1-305(B1)  
Washington 75 75 Constitution: Art. IV, Sec. 3(a) May serve until end of year in which 75 is reached.
West Virginia     
Wisconsin     
Wyoming 70 70/None Constitution: Art. 5, Sec. 5 District: 70 Circuit & Municipal: None