Blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law

When Should Supreme Court Judges Retire?

India is the latest state to debate the proper age at which Supreme Court justices should retire.
At present, Indian Supreme Court Justices retire at age 65. The current proposal would raise the age of retirement by three years to 68. The Government of India, speaking though the Minister for Law, Justice and Company Affairs, has not yet resolved to move ahead with changes to the retirement age, and has instead reserved judgment on the matter for now.
Were India to adopt this proposal–which would require a constitutional amendment approved by a supermajority of the national legislature–it would bring the country closer to the norm among other western liberal democracies. In Australia and South Africa, for instance, the retirement age is 70. In Canada, Justices retire at age 75.
This is an interesting topic of institutional design, one which has attracted considerable interest in the United States, where Supreme Court justices are not subject to mandatory retirement upon reaching a specific age. One of the most provocative proposals in the American context comes from Stephen Calabresi and James Lindgren, who have argued in favor of a constitutional amendment that would limit the term of Supreme Court justices to 18 years. Calabresi and Lindgren have made their case both in the popular press and in a scholarly journal.


One response to “When Should Supreme Court Judges Retire?”

  1. J.S. Avatar

    If the appointment of judges were apolitical then a retirement age probably wouldn’t be all that important, as most judges would retire voluntarily at a reasonable time.

    But a mandatory retirement age makes sense if you have a system, like in the U.S, in which ailing judges have an incentive to stay on waiting for a change of administration, even after they themselves may feel too old to do the job.

    I think any retirement age should definitely be constitutionally entrenched so that it can’t be used as a way of firing inconvenient judges.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *