Retirement proposal omits current judges
A higher age limit would apply solely to future appointees
A proposal to raise the mandatory retirement age for judges to 80 would apply only to jurists appointed after the new law is approved, under a compromise bill advancing in the state Legislature.
The amendment to Senate Bill 3202 was made yesterday by the House Judiciary Committee, and comes a week after a similar change was defeated in the Senate.
If approved by the Legislature, the proposal would ask voters to decide whether the mandatory retirement age for judges should be raised to 80 from 70.
In its original form, SB 3202 would have applied to current judges and was seen by critics as a blatant attempt by majority Democrats to prevent Republican Gov. Linda Lingle from appointing a successor to Hawaii Chief Justice Ronald Moon, who turns 70 in 2010, Lingle's final year in office.
"It's a compromise," Rep. Tommy Waters, House Judiciary chairman, said of the amended proposal. "The attorney general will agree to it, and it has a better chance of passing, I think, on the ballot."
Voters rejected a proposal in 2006 to remove the mandatory retirement age altogether.
Democrats said the proposal was brought back this year to address concerns about age discrimination.
"My personal opinion is it should be lifted altogether, but I don't think that will pass based on what happened in the last election," said Waters (D, Lanikai-Waimanalo). "I think now we have a real chance of passing it, especially with the attorney general now on board."
Attorney General Mark Bennett said he would support the compromise, but he would prefer to forgo any vote on the matter in favor of forming a task force to study alternatives.
Alternatives could include a system of term limits combined with an age limit for appellate court judges or a system where judges would have to reapply for the position once they reach their term limit and are past a certain age.
The amendment to the bill "takes out the argument that it is politically motivated," Bennett said. "It is a good compromise should this bill move forward."
Proposed constitutional amendments require the approval of two-thirds of both the House and Senate to be placed on the general-election ballot.