I’m just a plainspoken Colorado criminal defense lawyer, but the way I see it…
The legal scholar Jonathan Turley once picked a Dream Team of the nine greatest Supreme Court Justices in history. They were:
Charles Evans Hughes
Oliver Wendell Holmes
John Marshall Harlan
Had the Supreme Court the mandatory retirement age used by three-fifths of the United States, Justice Story would have been all alone on Professor Turley’s dream bench. This country would have been deprived of a collective ninety-nine years of the judicial wisdom of the greatest judges who ever lived.
Among other things that would have been lost if these men were retired at age seventy (generally the mark chosen by thirty states), is the requirement that you be informed about your right to remain silent, and your right to an attorney. Before that police would simply beat a confession out of you, and you were good to go to court.
You could not marry the partner of your choice if he or she were a spouse of a different color.
Also lost would have been your right to have a private phone conversation (we’ll pretend for a moment the federal government isn’t listening in now anyway).
It would be okay to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre and enjoy the ensuing panic; the “clear and present danger” exception to free speech would never have been articulated and Tom Clancy would be down one book and movie.
The poor would be flat out of luck if they could not afford to hire a lawyer to defend a criminal charge.
All of these decisions, and hundreds more, were conceived, drafted, and argued by judges who were in their seventies and eighties.
We’ve recognized the value of experience and matured sagacity at the national level: federal judges are appointed for life.
Twenty of our United States have no mandatory retirement ages for their judges. But what of the wasted wisdom of the rest?