Age and the older worker

The theme is age in the news today.

First, Judge Galen Vaa, a Ventura appointee to the bench in Clay County, has lost his lawsuit protesting the state’s requirement that when a judge turns 70 in this state, they’re finished.

It wasn’t a surprise. Two other judges over the years have taken the issue to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which told them both they had to go under the state’s mandatory retirement age.

“I hope that I get to a point where there’s a decision made by the end of the year so if I lose I can get ready for retirement,” he tells Forum News of his plan to appeal the decision.

The law, enacted in the ’60s by voters who added it to the Minnesota Constitution, doesn’t care who you are. Supreme Court justice Alan Page was pushed out by the law a year ago.

It also swept up Judge Larry Collins of Steele County, who had to retire in January.

He’s the guy who caught our attention by caring about the people who appeared in his drug court.

One day you’re a valued employee; the next day you have no value when all you did was blow out a few candles.

But that’s the way it goes. Because the tricky thing with the law is… it’s the law.

Meanwhile, out in Grand Forks, Jean Wald gets to go to work again today at the Ramada, according to the Grand Forks Herald.

She’s 90 now. She’s been a server in the banquet room for 38 years.

A few years ago, her colleagues pooled $100 for her birthday. She gave the money to her church instead.

“What else was I going to do with the money?” Wald said.

Perhaps at 90, knowing your employer still sees the value you bring to the job is a reward.

Not that Minnesota judges would know.

  • Mike

    Judges get what amounts to a lifetime appointment. (Yes, I know, they’re technically elected in Minnesota, but how many of them ever lose?) That’s a lot different from being a hotel banquet server.

    The prospect of a judge with declining mental faculties holding a defendant’s fate in his/her hands is sufficient reason to have a mandated retirement age for that occupation.

    More sarcastically, since so many Congressional districts are uncompetitive, and it seems many representatives also have a virtual lifetime appointment, can we get this passed for Congress too?

    • Isn’t a defendant’s fate in the hands of the jury? Should there be an age requirement on jurors?

      • Rob

        Dunno about an age test, but a civics test, mos’ def. The problem is that so few citizens would pass, the jury pool would get dangerously shallow.

        • jon

          Isn’t there already a test for jurors? One administered by a 3 person panel comprised of the judge, the prosecution and the defense attorneys? And if any one of find a member of the jury unacceptable they are removed and replaced by some one else?

          Seems like a solution in search of a problem…

          I don’t know if there is a way of removing judges who are unfit to serve, but I imagine there probably is, if there isn’t then an age limit seems like a bad set of criteria….

          • Let’s ask the Simpson jury. :*)

          • Oh snap!

          • Zachary

            I’m trying to think of when The Simpsons did a Jury Duty episode, but I’m drawing a blank. I know there was the “how a bill becomes a law” type one (“Paperclip, do your work!”).
            I imagine much wackiness ensued.

          • jon
          • Zachary

            Thank you!

          • Jerry

            Life would be so much easier if we could test for the evil gene

          • Rob

            Are you talking about the voir dire process? The various grounds for finding jurors unacceptable in voir dire questioning usually have little to do with a juror’s civics aptitude. And in this process, a given number of potential jurors can be removed by the prosecution and defense just because either side wants them removed; no reason or justification needs to be given to the court.

          • jon

            So what you are saying is that civics aptitude doesn’t matter to people who have a vested interest in a particular case.

      • Mike

        Are judges really no more important than a random juror?

        • Is that what I said? Where did I say that?

          • Mike


          • That’s not a proper answer, Mike. There’s no cuteness. If you want me to defend a point I made, don’t try to rephrase it into a point I didn’t.

          • Mike

            It’s a proper response to a disingenuous remark. You were implying that if there’s mandatory retirement for judges, then perhaps there should be for jurors as well. I questioned the equivalence you implied, at which point you claimed you never implied it.

            For the record, I never said that juries don’t (obviously) play a role as well. But the duties of judges are numerous, unlike juries. Judges have broad discretion over sentencing, for example. So yes, an incompetent judge can cause a tremendous amount of damage – far more than a random juror.

            It’s a point that’s as plain as the nose on a face, and clearly fact-based – for anyone who cares to debate in good faith.

          • “Implying”

            The phrase you’re struggling to find is “I inferred.”

          • Mike

            A distinction without a difference in this context.

          • A definition of a word cannot be changed to justify a false assertion. That’s simply not how the language works

          • Mike

            The dictionary definitions of those two words are extremely close. Practically speaking, that means they can often be used as synonyms.

            But if you’re competing for Pedant of the Year, congratulations!

          • No, I’m merely pointing out with fact the falsehood upon which your entire thesis was based. Your response is to make up new rules of grammar and throw in an insult. A definition of a synonym is not a word that’s sort of close to the meaning of another word. The difference between imply and infer is the difference between me saying something and you thinking something. While I might give you points for the effort to obscure reality, it doesn’t keep it from being reality.

          • Laurie K.

            Actually “infer” and “imply” are opposites, like a throw and catch. The speaker “implies” the listener “infers”. Implying is basically hinting, inferring is making an educated guess.

          • Rob

            Infer is similar to surmise; imply is similar to suggest. Big diff.

      • Anna

        Now you’re headed down a slippery slope.

        Since you are not selected to serve on a jury unless you’re on the voter registration rolls, what about having an age limit on who is allowed to vote?

        Could we have avoided the current circus in Washington if we had that amendment in the Constitution?

        What about other professions like doctors, engineers, nurses, etc. or any other profession that deals with public health and safety?

        Putting an age limit on ALL elected officials might make the job less of a lifetime appointment and we might just get something accomplished at the state and federal legislative level.

        • I don’t know. I see a lot of fairly young politicians out there completely gumming up the works with an adherence to their political doctrine. I could make a case that older people, having lived through a time when government worked, might have a deeper appreciation for the art.

          • jon

            Yeah, but old people have no vested interest in the long term viability of the country…

            We should boot the bums out of office!

            or perhaps age isn’t a accurate measure of someone’s capabilities… unless we are talking about toys with small pieces that might be swallowed…

          • // but old people have no vested interest in the long term viability of the country..

            Unless they love their children, of course.

          • jon

            Aren’t their children those terrible millennials that everyone hates? 😉

        • Kassie

          Juror aren’t just people on voter registration rolls. In MN, they also look at Driver’s License and State ID rolls in choosing potential voters.

      • Laurie K.

        Whose hands a defendant’s fate lies in is determined by the defendant in the majority of cases. With crimes which are deemed misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors or felonies, the defendant is given the choice of jury trial or court trial. However, prior to even getting to jury, a defendant’s “fate” can lie in the hands of the judge who determines important pre-trial issues, including whether there is probable cause to even bring the charges to a fact finder [i.e. a judge or a jury]. Also, all juvenile delinquencies are decided by a judge.

        • True, but aren’t there also sentencing guidelines?

          • Laurie K.

            Presuming the defendant is found guilty, then yes, there are sentencing guidelines. Sentencing is in the hands of the judge though, not the jury.

      • Laurie K.

        Any prospective juror over the age of 70 can asked to be excused without providing evidence of an inability to serve, but may choose to serve if able.

  • Rob

    Life is indeed arbitrary, unfair, strange – and cheap.

  • Mike Worcester

    //The law, enacted in the ’60s by voters who added it to the Minnesota Constitution,

    Behold the power of adding something to the constitution. A law like that really should be in the hands of the legislature. Maybe fifty years ago a mandatory retirement of 70 made sense, but now?

    My other curiosity has been if there should be a minimum age for placement to the bench. Should there be some sort of base line for experience before someone gets appointed (or first elected)?

    • BReynolds33

      “Should there be some sort of base line for experience before someone gets appointed (or first elected)?”

      In theory, this would be determined by the voters (at least here in MN). In practice? When’s the last time anyone (other than Bob) researched a judicial candidate that has never had anyone run against them?

      • Mike Worcester

        In the last general election I did choose to write-in for one unopposed seat as I knew the person holding and seat and felt they were unfit for that position. But that was only one of probably twenty unopposed seats.

        • MrE85

          I did the same. I wonder if it was the same judge? Still, that’s our secret, until our ballots are posted on WikiLeaks. 😉

  • MrE85

    If the US had the same requirements of its presidents, last year’s election would have been a whole different ball game.

    • MikeB

      Would need more to protect us from ourselves.

      To paraphrase, we’re gonna get it real hard

      • MrE85

        We all bear the shame, and the responsibility to do better next time.

  • Angry Jonny
  • Postal Customer

    This is less a story about age and more a story of how very bad laws get into the constitution. Most laws do not belong there.

  • lindblomeagles

    It’s not entirely clear to me why voters wanted a Constitutional age limit for judges. What I know from experience is voters don’t always get things right (see Donald Trump, President of the United States, 2017). I also can’t support the theory that younger judges make better decisions than older ones. Clarence Thomas, current Supreme Court Justice, has been making bad decisions since his confirmation hearing took place during George H. W. Bush’s presidency. Like most people at any age, some folks are sharp as tacks. Others are as dull as an unsharpened pencil. The system doesn’t tolerate case by case basis, and in a system of case by case basis, the facts leading to somebody’s ouster has to be extraordinary. I’d like to choose a camp to join. I’m just not sure, given human nature, if I can.