Federal Judgeship: undermining the justice system?

Mr. Wesley Brown of Hutchinson, Kan. was born in 1907. That makes him 103 years old. And while he has no need for congratulations or gift baskets, he would be happy to hear any federal court cases you might have. Judge Brown – not to be confused with the infamous TV judge Joe Brown – is one of four remaining appointees of President Kennedy, and the oldest federal judge still performing his job. As can be expected of one who has surpassed the century mark, Judge Brown has had to make some concessions in order to continue doing what he loves to do most. He now comes to work in a powered wheelchair and uses an oxygen tank, and generally prefers that the proceedings are short and to the point. Despite these shortcomings, Judge Brown carries on an efficient and level-headed courtroom, and those who have dealt with him applaud him for his compassion toward defendants. However, this remarkable man does bring to light a very interesting issue: Should there be a cutoff date for federal judgeship? Certainly there is no definitive answer. Supporters of duty for life will cite the advantages of an older judge’s seemingly boundless legal experience. Supporters of a cutoff will counter by citing the limitations of age and the inevitable onset of senility as a person grows older. Kansas resident Dorothy Trinkle had this to say after dealing with Judge Brown: “I don’t care how good a guy he is. Your mental and physical attributes diminish with age and I think there should be a cutoff date for federal judges. This is ridiculous to have him in there at that age.” Perhaps it is worth mentioning that this woman made this comment after coming out on the losing end of a legal case heard by Judge Brown. While I do not believe it to be “ridiculous” to have a 103-year-old man preside over a federal court of law, I can’t say I would be completely comfortable with someone that old presiding over my case, especially something as important as a federal court decision. As my sympathies lie somewhere in between the two sides, I feel like there is an easy solution to this problem. Federal judges of a certain age and above should be periodically reviewed and tested for mental acumen. Those who pass may continue to serve, and those who are judged unfit to continue may be given a retirement. This seems to be the most logical solution both for those who are concerned that the justice system is being undermined by old judges and for those who believe firmly in the civic duty side of the issue that in essence says one should serve for as long as one can.