The Rejection of Prop 13 and the Mandatory Retirement Age for Texas Judges
In the recent constitutional amendments vote in Texas, a majority of voters approved all but one of the 14 proposed amendments. The rejected amendment, Proposition 13, aimed to increase the mandatory retirement age for state justices and judges from 75 to 79. This rejection could have serious implications for more than 100 state justices and judges who will have to step down in the middle of their terms over the next 10 years.
Implications of Prop 13’s Rejection
The most senior and notable among them is Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, who turns 75 next year. Hecht is the longest-serving member of the high court in Texas history and the longest-tenured Texas judge in active service. However, with the rejection of Proposition 13, Hecht will need to leave his post before his term ends, according to a Supreme Court of Texas spokesperson.
The mandatory retirement age was adopted in 1965, and the rejection of Proposition 13 leaves it as the law in Texas. According to data from the Office of Court Administration, there were 113 state judges aged 65 and older in Texas as of Sept. 1. While judges set to age out of their positions are well-regarded in the legal community, mandatory retirement often signals a push for new ideas and opinions.
The Push for Change Late in the Game
The rejection of Proposition 13 is not without controversy. Some argue that this change was meant to take a step back from turnover on the bench just as there were a number of statewide judges approaching retirement age. According to Doug Gladden, an appellate attorney at Rosenthal Kalabus & Therrian, “There comes a point when the public wants to see new opinions and new thoughts. They have come to this point in their lives knowing the mandatory retirement was coming, and it just seemed like there was a push to change the rules late in the game for a select group of people.”
Mandatory Retirement Age for Texas Judges
The mandatory retirement age of 75 for state justices and judges applies to the Texas Supreme Court, courts of appeals, district courts, and criminal district courts. However, the Texas Constitution allows for some flexibility. According to Article 5 of the Texas Constitution, only a justice or judge who reaches 75 during the first four years of a six-year term will have to step down Dec. 31 of their fourth year. That would apply to Justice Hecht, who will be in his fourth year when he turns 75 in 2024. Judges who turn 75 in the fifth or sixth year can finish the term before leaving the bench. Supreme Court justices and appellate court judges serve six-year terms, while district court judges serve four-year terms.
Replacement for Retired Judges
With the retirement of Justice Hecht, the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, will choose a replacement. When there’s a mid-term judicial vacancy, the Governor may appoint someone, subject to Senate confirmation, to fill the remainder of the unexpired term.
While there are more than 150 municipal judges over the age of 75, a mandatory retirement age is not spelled out in the state Constitution for county or municipal judges. Although state justices and judges will continue to step down mid-term once they hit 75, that doesn’t mean they have to stop serving completely. There are some circumstances that would allow a retired justice or judge to serve as a visiting judge.
The rejection of Prop 13 highlights the importance of the mandatory retirement age for Texas judges. It also raises the question of whether it should be changed to accommodate an aging population, or if that would undermine the benefits of mandatory retirement for new perspectives and fresh ideas.
Subheadings: Prop 13’s Rejection, Implications of Prop 13’s Rejection, The Push for Change Late in the Game, Mandatory Retirement Age for Texas Judges, Replacement for Retired Judges, Conclusion
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