Pryor makes several important points about how unnecessary an expansion would be, and how unwieldy a larger judicial cohort would become, but we believe he buries his most critical point: that “hundreds of senior, or semiretired, judges […] shoulder a large part of the judiciary’s workload.”
Beginning at age 65, a federal judge with 15 years of service may retire with full benefits, but thankfully, given how fraught the once-routine role of confirming judges has become, hundreds of older jurists are instead taking senior status and handling about 15 percent of cases.
Though they play a critical role in our body politic, they’re not always offered the resources to ensure they maintain their cognitive health as they age. Sadly, only about half of the 13 federal circuits have established judicial wellness committees aimed at keeping judges sharp. Among them, the Chicago-based Seventh Circuit hosts seminars with neurological experts, the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit has a hotline court staff may call if they believe a colleague is slipping and the Washington-based Federal Circuit employs an on-site occupational health nurse.
No such programs exist at the Supreme Court. (Tell your members of Congress they should via this form.)
“It is an unfortunate fact of life,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in a 1991 opinion, “that physical and mental capacity sometimes diminish with age.” Senior judges should be commended for keeping our legal system moving. We owe it to them – and to ourselves – to ensure they have appropriate cognitive health support.