Only a quick post tonight.
The image that kept cropping up in my social media feeds today was an unflattering photo of Madam Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at Justice Kavanaugh’s swearing in. The usual comments have been, unflatteringly but not unfairly, along the lines of “she looks like she was taken from a nursing home and is deeply annoyed that this isn’t a visit to IHOP.
This got me thinking about when judges should hang up the boots. Judges on the High Court of Australia are required constitutionally to retire at seventy years as a result of a referendum in the 1970s. This, perhaps, reflects some extremely long judicial careers on the High Court. Longest of all was that of Sir Edward McTiernan. McTiernan was appointed in 1930 and retired (not altogether willingly) in 1976. He was aged 84 years. His judgments were never overly impressive (my impression as a law student was that his most common judgment was the phrase “I concur”), but he still seemed to be active and involved until retirement.
McTiernan J’s career was rivalled by the longevity of Sir George Rich. Rich served from 1913 to 1950 and retired at the age of 87. His judgments, too, are never overly deep. Wikipedia offers the mixed compliment that –
Rich’s judgments are generally considered to be clear and concise. Some commentators attribute this more to laziness than to a knack for clarity.
The same can be said away from the Bench too: I’m sure we can all think of barristers, solicitors and legal academics we’ve known who were, well, past their prime. So my question is: when should lawyers look at calling it a day?