Aging judiciously

“The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour…”

                                                                                                                   Article III, Section 1, U.S. Constitution

The short phrase in the first paragraph of the Constitution regarding the judiciary is the basis for the fight in Washington over President Obama‘s ability to appoint a Supreme Court justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia. Republicans, especially conservative Republicans, don’t want the Obama legacy to extend for a quarter century or more with the lifetime appointment of a left-leaning justice to tip the balance of the court.

The lifetime appointment was not a problem when the founders drew up the Constitution. The Federalists argued that in order to have a system unbound by political pressure and unswayed by shifting popular passions, judges should be free of concerns they would lose their jobs for doing their jobs. It’s a convincing position and, in 1780, one that made sense when the average age for men was about 40 years old. Not much chance of someone appointed in their 40s to hold onto the post for decades.

In fact, the first 10 justices on the Supreme Court served an average of eight years. Compare that with the last 10 justices to leave the court since 1985, who served an average of 25 years, including Scalia, who was in his 30th year as a justice. Three other justices in that time frame had also served more than 30 years before retiring or dying in office.

The advances of modern medicine and good living have extended lifespans so that the Supreme Court will have three octogenarians on the bench during the first term of Obama’s successor. Life expectancy now for all (women can now be included) is 82.3 years and by 2050 it is estimated it will be nearly 87 years. The debate has resurrected the argument that there needs to be some form of term limits for justices that would make the process less vitriolic and more predictable.

The Globe‘s Jeff Jacoby tossed out what has been often argued as a viable option, limiting justices’ terms to 18 years, with appointments made the first and third years of each presidential term. That, say backers, takes the randomness out of appointments and ensures the court reflects current political and societal mores. To see what a roll of the dice Supreme Court nominations are, all one has to do is look at Richard Nixon, who appointed four justices, and Jimmy Carter, who appointed none.

The ideological war in Washington over Obama’s selection of Appeals Court Justice Merrick Garland will get uglier, everyone agrees. It will become not only a continuing exemplar of dysfunction in the nation’s capital but a key component in the presidential and down-ballot races in November. Both sides will make sure of that. In that area, Massachusetts, once again, is a leader.

A lot of that randomness was removed here when voters in 1972 approved a constitutional amendment for mandatory retirement for judges at age 70. Gov. Charlie Baker is the current beneficiary of that, with Justice Francis X. Spina, who will reach 70 in the fall, stepping down. Two other justices, Margot Botsford and Geraldine Hines, will reach 70 next year. Coupled with the unexpected early retirements of Robert Cordy and Fernande Duffly, Baker will have five spots on the seven-member bench to fill. And unlike Obama, Baker doesn’t have to deal with an opposing party majority in the Legislature, just an unpredictable Governor’s Council.




Gov. Charlie Baker, who has downplayed any interest in national Republican affairs, made an undisclosed trip earlier this month to a conservative policy gathering at a posh resort off the Georgia coast. (Boston Globe)


Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno says he plans to hire 59 new police officers. (Masslive)

At a raucous meeting, the East Longmeadow Board of Selectmen hire a new police chief, oust the chairman of the board, and bring in a new town administrator — all by 2-1 votes. (Masslive)

The parade route may not be changing, but South Boston certainly has, as the old guard gives way to a flood of young professionals who are transforming the increasingly pricey neighborhood. (Boston Globe)

Worcester supports a Good Chemistry marijuana dispensary and in return receives payments totaling $450,000 over three years and a cut of the shop’s revenues. (Telegram & Gazette)

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera offers a capital plan that features the construction of two new elementary schools. (Eagle-Tribune)

Quincy is undertaking a massive overhaul of the Quincy Center MBTA station as part of the downtown redevelopment but officials say the city’s taxpayers will not foot the bill for the station renovation. (Patriot Ledger)

Personnel decisions discussed in executive sessions by municipal boards are usually kept locked away forever even when some of the decisions have a wider public impact, such as the former Provincetown police chief who received more than $500,000 after he was fired for interfering in a selectman’s race. (Cape Cod Times)

In other messy local politics news, an investigation determined the assistant fire chief in Mendon, who is leading contentious negotiations with the town over a new union contract with firefighters, spread a false rumor that the town administrator received a 34 percent pay hike because she was in a relationship with a selectman. But the town’s public safety director says there won’t be any discipline because his probe came to different conclusions. (MetroWest Daily News)


Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone says he’s not intimidated by Steve Wynn and is not backing down from the appeal of environmental permits for Wynn’s planned Everett casino. (Boston Herald)

The Brockton Enterprise, which has run editorials in favor of a proposed casino in the city, says an anti-casino flyer being distributed to residents misrepresents the paper’s position.


Georgia lawmakers passed a controversial bill that would shield opponents of gay marriage from penalties if they refuse service based on their beliefs. (New York Times)


The Economist rates Donald Trump a top-10 global risk whose election could disrupt the global economy and lead to chaos. (Politico) A Washington Post editorial says “the mission of any responsible Republican should be to block a Trump nomination and election.”

Fox News cancels the next GOP debate after Trump backs out. (U.S. News & World Report)

Cambridge City Councilor Leland Cheung says he’ll challenge state Sen. Patricia Jehlen in this fall’s Democratic primary. (Politico)


Massachusetts tech execs Colin Angle and Paul Sagan make the case against the government’s attempt to have Apple change its software to undermine its security features. (Boston Globe)

Massport is preparing for the arrival of the biggest container ship in the port’s history, a Chinese shipping company vessel with 8,500 containers. (Boston Herald)


Another account has surfaced of a black student at Boston Latin School who experienced an uncomfortable, racially-tinged encounter — this one involving a teacher at the school. (Boston Globe) The student says she requested a meeting at the time — in October 2014 — with school headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta but did not hear back from her office. The student’s mother wants the teacher fired. (Boston Herald)

Nearly 100 parents, students, and teachers testify against proposed budget cuts to the Boston public schools at a budget hearing. Former city councilor and mayoral candidate John Connolly says irresponsible budgeting by the school department, including maintaining a huge surplus of unfilled school seats, is to blame for the system’s inability to fund vital programming. (Boston Globe)

Three instances of anti-Semitic graffiti have been found at Newton North High School since the school’s basketball team was subjected to anti-Semitic taunts last Friday during a game with Catholic Memorial High School. (Boston Globe)

George Donnelly offers advice on how to tap the gold mine of college talent in the Greater Boston area. (CommonWealth)


A study finds that doctors nationally who took payments or accepted meals from pharmaceutical makers were more likely to prescribe costly brand-name drugs — but that pattern was not seen among Massachusetts physicians. (Boston Globe)


The MBTA is considering ways to mitigate the disproportionate impact of cancelling late-night service on minority and low-income riders, including adding more early morning bus service. (Politico)

MBTA officials are fretting over spiraling pension costs. (Boston Herald)

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation outlines its capital spending plans. (State House News)

The Uber driver who gunned down six people in Kalamazoo, Michigan, says Uber ruined his life. (Time)


General Electric issues a final rejection of the EPA’s Housatonic River cleanup plan. (Berkshire Eagle)

Federal officials have designated 125 square miles off the coast of New York for wind farms. (Associated Press)

SeaWorld says it will no longer breed killer whales at its theme parks, phasing out the orcas as a tourist attraction. (New York Times)


A State Police trooper and father of six was killed when his cruiser was struck by a speeding, wayward vehicle as it sat in the breakdown lane on the Massachusetts Turnpike in Charlton. (Boston Herald)