The Bar News

State high court rules mandatory retirement for judges unconstitutional

By a 4-2 vote in Maddux v. Blagojevich. Justice Freeman delivered the judgment with Chief Justice Fitzgerald and Justices Kilbride and Burke concurring. Justices Karmeier and Garman dissented. Justice Thomas was not part of the decision. From the case summary:
William Maddux is the presiding judge of the law division of the Cook County circuit court. He will be 75 years old before his current term expires in 2010. He would like to serve beyond that time, but wants to do so by running for retention, rather than in a contested election. The Illinois Constitution of 1970 states criteria for eligibility for judgeships which do not include age, but also states that the “General Assembly may provide by law for the retirement of Judges *** at a prescribed age.” The Compulsory Retirement of Judges Act states that “a judge is automatically retired at the expiration of the term in which the judge attains the age of 75.” In 1992, the Act was construed by the appellate court as precluding a judge from running for retention after age 75, but as allowing a candidate for judgeship to run in a contested election at any age, thus reaching a compromise between the constitutional absence of age as an eligibility requirement and the legislature’s constitutionally granted power to set a retirement age. This judicial interpretation, now 17 years old, has not been altered by the legislature. This declaratory judgment action seeking summary judgment was brought as an attempt to secure for Judge Maddux the right to run for retention. It was claimed that the statutory scheme now in place is constitutionally invalid. The circuit court dismissed the action. This result was reversed by the Illinois Supreme Court in this decision. The supreme court held that the appellate court had erred in the 1992 decision and overruled it. That said, however, the Constitution of Illinois permits those over 75 to seek judicial office, while the Act, enacted pursuant to the legislature’s constitutional power to set a retirement age, precludes remaining in judicial office after age 75. The supreme court held that this result denies equal protection and, thus, the statute cannot stand. The supreme court noted that the General Assembly retains the power to enact retirement legislation which is constitutional, but suggested that the route to mandatory retirement of judges may be in a constitutional amendment.
Full case summary. Slip opinion
Posted on June 18, 2009 by Chris Bonjean

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