Tuesday, July 31, 2018

And God Laughs, Justice Ginsburg

I suppose it was a bit of passing news over the weekend when Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court justice who would not recommend the U.S. Constitution to other countries, was asked about retirement plans.  Or just decided to make a statement,  Matters not which.

At any rate, she noted that Justice Stevens who was an elder colleague on the Court, had retired years back at 90, and so, in so many words, she thought she had "five years" left.  We were supposed to interpret that, I imagine, as saying that she would not plan to retire until President Trump's second term was over.  At least the math is close.

Of course, as the saying goes in many cultures and many languages, "Man plans, and God laughs."

We know God has a sense of humor, because how else could you explain the zebra, or Paris Hilton, or Hillary Clinton?  But I suspect that He laughs a lot when someone like Mrs. Ginsburg makes plans that presuppose her making it to 90.

Now, we should all plan for that eventuality, in the sense of being prepared should we live that long.  I get that, and preparation for an eventuality does not equate to an expectation of its occurrence.  I exercise and try to eat sort of right, and I'm already 67, and both parents and both grandmothers lived into their nineties.  So I should certainly prepare for the possibility, at least in terms of financial planning, although I can't say I "plan" to live that long.

What I do not plan to be doing is working.  Nor, I contend, should she.

First of all, my current plan (cut to laughter from God) is to work full time as a consultant until age 70, whereupon I'll tilt the work/life (i.e., time with the Best Girl and lots more golf) balance to maybe a quarter-time for work.  There is a lot of demand for my weird skill set, but I think that could work, part time for a while.  But not until 90, if I were to live that long.

We have Constitutional guidance, where Representatives must be at least 25 and Senators at least 30.  The President has to be 35.  Justices can be any age, including 11 ... or mentally 11.  I imagine that at no point did the Framers contemplate anyone wanting to sit in Congress, the (to-be) White House or the Supreme Court past the age of mental competence, so there is no mandatory retirement age.

But there should be.

The oldest truly notable participant in the founding of our Nation was probably Ben Franklin, who was never the president.  I feel the need to point that out, because high-school students can't be relied upon to know enough history to know pretty much anything, including that Franklin was never president.

It would be helpful if they knew that a really good reason that Franklin was never president, and never even considered to become president, is that when George Washington started his very first term as the very first president of the United States, Benjamin Franklin was already 83 years old.  Washington was only a year into that very first presidential term when Franklin died.

But I digress.

Well, not a lot.  We do start slowing down, mentally, in our 60s and 70s.  I write this column, in part, to practice and exercise my verbal skills so I can do a better job in my actual for-a-living profession.  But I can tell when I'm working to recall a word, that I'm aging.  I used to have a mental exercise when jogging, as recently as 3-4 years ago, where I would verbalize the names of each member of each of the international barbershop quartet champions back to the first one in 1939.  Don't you laugh, now; I used to know them.  Now, not so much.

It is imperative that we make no attempts to impose an age limit on SCOTUS justices for the ad hoc purpose of getting someone off the Court that we don't like.  That's wrong on every level.  But the Court is important, I mean really important -- and we have to have a comfort level that they're capable of doing what they are paid to do.  That they're not sleeping through arguments or, worse, forgetting precedents and how to apply them.

Do you trust a 90-year-old justice?  Me, either.

I would like for us to consider, most seriously, a Constitutional amendment by which any justice appointed after the final adoption of the amendment is to serve only through the Court term or summer recess during which they reach their 80th birthday, and are retired at that point from at least that Court.

Elections have consequences, and the appointments to the Supreme Court are among those consequences.  Of course, since such an amendment would not affect any current justices, the logical outcome is that future presidents would find themselves appointing relatively younger (and therefore more mentally crisp) judges to the Court, which would not be a terrible thing.

I value age and maturity as much as the next guy, but as I watch the subtle impact of age on my own mind skills, and realize that the oldest justice is 18 years older than I, I would certainly like for us to start contemplating a reasonable retirement for the Court, because a nonagenarian Supreme Court justice is not a pleasant prospect.

Thank you, Justice Ginsburg, for reminding us.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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