Split-Judgment on Judicial Changes

October 21, 1994

Two ballot questions dealing with courts management will be before the voters Nov. 8. We urge voters to render a split-judgment.

Question No. 2 alters the boundaries of the circuits for the Court of Appeals and Court of Special Appeals. A new circuit would be created for Montgomery County; Baltimore City would lose one of the two judges it provides to each of the two courts.

Population change made this inevitable. There are now more people, lawyers and complex litigation in Montgomery and less in the city. We endorse this amendment reluctantly: Maryland no longer needs to appoint appellate court judges based on specific geographic locales.

If geographic diversity is not needed on appeals courts, racial and gender diversity are. That's one reason we oppose Question No. 3, which raises the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75. Most of the judges affected are white males, thus reducing the number of new slots for the state's growing number of highly capable women lawyers and black lawyers who aspire to judgeships.

Another reason we oppose this amendment is that judging, done right, is a demanding profession. Age tends to render many judges less capable as the rigors of the job mount. Retired judges who oppose this amendment will attest to that. There is no magic age at which the able automatically become unable, but there ought to be a line, and 70 seems about right. Judges who retire can still sit as judges temporarily for up to 180 days a year.

A third reason for our opposition is that the constitutional amendment seems to have been put on the ballot by the General Assembly for the express purpose of allowing Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy of the Court of Appeals and Chief Judge Robert F. Sweeney of the District Court, both 68, to retain their positions. Sticking what amounts to a private bill in the Constitution is inappropriate. We have great respect for those men as jurists and administrators, but the two have held their posts for more than 20 years. It's time for a change.

We recommend a vote FOR the constitutional amendment on Question No. 2 and a vote AGAINST the constitutional amendment on Question No. 3.

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