Fix the Court submitted a letter today encouraging the federal judiciary to establish a national strategy for mitigating the potential for cognitive impairment among its aging judges and justices.
The letter to James Duff, secretary of the Judicial Conference, and Judge Anthony Scirica, chair of the Conference’s Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability, outlines the problems with life tenure at the Supreme Court while highlighting the threat of cognitive decline as the justices age and offering system-wide solutions, from the high court down to the appeals and district levels.
“Like many of us, the nine justices are loath to come to terms with their own mortality,” said Fix the Court executive director Gabe Roth. “But those given the responsibility to make decisions affecting millions of lives should also have the humility to know when to pass the torch – before their own flames burn out. By examining possible solutions to the negative effects that stem from federal judges serving longer than ever before, while caseloads and vacancies are on the rise, the Judicial Conference can help ensure cognitive impairment is a problem for the high court nor for appeals and district courts.”
The letter points out that the Ninth Circuit’s Judicial Wellness Committee may serve an apt model for such a strategy, as it encourages jurists to undergo mental health assessments and hosts neurological experts to speak about the warning signs of cognitive impairment. The committee also has a wellness hotline and asks that judges empower their friends, family or colleagues to step in if they believe there’s reason to be concerned about a judge’s mental health.