Age limits for Wisconsin justices balance responsiveness, experience

Limit set at 75 years old may not be best for every situation, but in-line with public opinion

· Dec 8, 2023 Tweet

Supreme Court
Abigail Leavins/The Badger Herald

A new bill has been introduced into the Wisconsin Legislature attempting to implement age limits for Wisconsin justices, and barring anyone under the age of 75 from being appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. 

Wisconsin Rep. Nik Rettinger, one of the main proponents of the age limit bill argues that there is public pressure to elect new justices and fresher perspectives to courts in Wisconsin, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. There is precedent set for the bill, as 30 states across the country have already implemented this age limit into their Supreme Courts — including Minnesota and Michigan.

But there is great debate surrounding this bill among Democrats and Republicans alike because of the number of politicians currently holding office that would be affected by the proposed age limit. Since there are justices like Clarence Thomas serving past that age limit now on a federal level, some Wisconsin politicians argue that this fact makes Wisconsin’s proposed age limit unfounded. Rep. Ron Tusler acknowledges that an age limit must be set, but believes 75 to be too arbitrary, according to WPR.

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Determining age limits comes down to a matter of longevity and competency. It is a slippery slope — there are some politicians who at age 75 could be deemed incompetent to serve, but there are also others who do their job well past that age. A middle ground must be found where politicians and the public both agree that their best interests are being served.

If this bill were to be passed, the makeup of the Wisconsin Supreme Court would shift drastically. If older people aren’t able to serve, the demographic would naturally shift younger — an effect that could be both beneficial and harmful. 

A younger, fresher perspective is welcomed by many. There is much public outrage surrounding the same politicians who have served for decades and fail to adapt to the ever-changing world. A younger court would be more relatable and potentially more accessible to attending and serving the public need. But there is also the viewpoint that with age comes experience. 

Politics has always been known to be somewhat of a game. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes in backrooms — deals struck and compromises made that keep the wheels of government turning. As politicians serve for longer periods, they naturally become accustomed to the rules and know-how of this game. It is part of their day-to-day life. They know what works to get things done and tactics to get desired results.

Younger politicians tend to be more responsive to electoral incentives, anticipating a longer political career ahead of them. This unfortunate naivety could prove problematic, especially in such a high-ranking court. Justices need to be seasoned and trustable. The public needs to know that the people they elect understand their responsibility in office and can handle it professionally.

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Overall, there needs to be an age limit set to prevent the same people from serving for an extended period. It is not productive to have the same people running the government for decades on end, no matter what experience they bring into office. But there also need to be heavy requirements for who qualifies to be a Supreme Court justice. Just because a new perspective is fresh, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is informed. Such a compromise strikes a balance between public opinion and the functionality of the government.

At the end of the day, it is natural that as people age, natural changes occur in their body and that includes the brain. These changes can affect mental function even in physically healthy people. While 75 may not be the right age to limit Supreme Court justices, there needs to be a limit that protects public interests. Age limits are not an attack on older people, but rather a precautionary measure to ensure that the people in charge of making highly important decisions are fully capable of doing so.

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Most Americans support age limits for elected officials, regardless of political party, and 79% of the public wants to see the American government go younger. There is no widespread hatred that could warrant a claim of ageism, but it is more of a concern surrounding how long these justices have been in office. While there is a concern surrounding the mental faculties of some, there is a larger concern surrounding how long these politicians have served. 

There needs to be a greater focus placed on government efficiency and guaranteeing that there are plenty of perspectives considered to make rational, balanced decisions. The courts are about making sure justice gets served — the same few people should not be handing down court opinions for the majority of their lives. 

Sammie Garrity ([email protected]) is a freshman studying journalism and political science.

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This article was published Dec 8, 2023 at 12:00 pm and last updated Dec 3, 2023 at 11:08 am

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