Decision 2020

Wording of referendum on Pennsylvania judges' retirement age may confuse voters

PITTSBURGH — Voters in Pennsylvania will be asked to decide Tuesday whether to change the state Constitution to raise the mandatory retirement age from 70 to 75 for about 1,000 judges statewide.

The question, however, will not be worded that way.

Instead, the referendum reads: “Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to require that justices of the Supreme Court, judges and magisterial district judges be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 75 years?”

No additional information will be provided to let voters know that by voting “yes,” the age limit will be raised.

Supporters argue that judges have specialized knowledge and many people are able to work productively into their 70s. Opponents say it can be difficult to remove a judge who has lost the mental capacity to do what can be a challenging job.

If the proposal fails, Republican Chief Justice Thomas Saylor will have to retire at the end of next month and Democratic Justice Max Baer by the end of next year. The vote will also have implications for county judges.

The ballot referendum was on the spring primary ballot and narrowly lost. The results weren't official, however, because shortly before the April primary, lawmakers rushed through a measure that invalidated any results and put off the official vote until the November election.

Channel 11 News contributed to this report.