Age limits are a dumb idea

Jim Baumgart 
Sheboygan County Supervisor

Setting an age limit for Wisconsin Supreme Court members may sound like a good idea if one isthinking about maybe ages of 85, 90 or more - but 75?

If that age would include someone writing this column - I’d be out of a job that I do voluntary as a public service for no salary. It would be sort of a dumb idea. But that is one of the proposals being suggested by some Republican members of the Wisconsin Legislature as way of pushing out Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

If you use that logic for the United State Supreme Court, we would have to give up four of its nine members. That includes Antonin Scalia (Born 1936), Anthony Kennedy (Born 1936), RuthBader Ginsburg (Born 1933) and Steven Breyer (Born 1938).

Although older than age 75, all with slightly different understanding of the United States Constitution, they seem sharp and have a good grasp of the subject.

Unlike the United States Supreme Court that are appointed for life by the President, and approved by the United States Senate, Wisconsin selects its Supreme Court Judges by a vote of the people statewide for a ten-year term. These are non-partisan elections for people who will decide what is constitutional, including legislation passed.

So why would one want or allow partisan politicians to influence who serves and decides the issues on the highest judicial court in the state?

If someone would suggest setting an age limit of 75 years for a CEO or owner of a company, my guess they might be laughed out of the room or even given suggestions for a different line of work.

Some of the best financial leaders and economist have become so because of their years of study and experience in their specific field. Age often means wisdom.

What if those same legislators would offer legislation that would require that no person over 75 years of age could work - even part time. It would be a crushing blow to those needing a few dollars a week more to help pay the bills. Or to those people who enjoy working in a specific field and have the skill, ability and experience.

To continue working after age 75 could be a way of enjoying life to the fullest and help both their family or community.

Many people don’t want a paying job after age 75. Some can no longer work and retirement provides a quality and dignity to their life. Others volunteer their services to certain causes like Meals on Wheels, local churches, conservation clubs, schools, or countless other not-forpay jobs.

Still others, its golf, fishing, travel with a mixture of some of the above.

But to tell a person, be they a general retiree or a Supreme Court Judge, that they no long can work after age 75 makes little to no sense. It has the smell of something political. And, when that has to do with our Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, it’s a dangerous direction to take.

While age should seldom be a limiting qualification, ability to serve is another issue. A person’s mental and physical ability to serve certainly can and should be something open for review depending on the occupation and other factors.

There a number of ways today in which such questions can and are now considered for certain professions. If there is a concern by some in the legislature about the ability of those servicing as judges and their ability to handle the job, then they should set up a panel of judges or others to provide recommendations if needed.

But to set an age of 75 as a limit for someone to serve has no relation to the skills, qualifications, or ability of the individual.

It may have more to do about raw politics, something we should keep out of our non-partisan court system,our third branch of government.

As always, it is best to let the people decide at the ballot box who should remove a judge - it certainly should not be a politician.

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