HomePoliticsBitter battles are brewing over the federal judge's forced retirement

Bitter battles are brewing over the federal judge’s forced retirement

A growing dispute over efforts to force the retirement of a 95-year-old federal judge is giving the public a rare glimpse into how the court system grapples with age issues on the bench.

Questions of age have been looming in Washington lately, with doubts over whether an octogenarian president is fit for re-election and whether the nation’s oldest serving senator should complete her term.

The judicial department is not without its own problems, as colleagues of Pauline Newman, a federal appeals court judge, try to push her away over concerns about her mental state.

Anonymous court officials have claimed that Newman is “just mentally losing it” and some describe her as “paranoid,” according to court documents.

A formal inquiry is being launched by three of her fellow judges after Newman rejected pressure to retire earlier this year, with new attempts to reduce her role on the court and demands she submit to a cognitive test.

“Based on its investigation to date, the Committee has determined that there is reasonable basis for concluding that Judge Newman may have a disability that may prevent her from performing the responsibilities of her office,” the justices wrote in earlier this year. an unsigned warrant. month.

The battle has only gotten more bitter since then. Newman this month sued her colleagues to block the investigation, insisting she is still fit to serve and that their investigation is unconstitutional.

“Judge Newman was and is in good physical and mental health at all relevant times,” Newman’s attorney wrote in the indictment. “She has written majority and dissenting opinions throughout the series of cases before her court, voted on petitions to rehearse en banc, and endorsed the court’s decisions en banc.”

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Newman’s chambers and her attorney have not returned requests for comment.

The research comes as questions about age are being raised in the two other branches of the federal government.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), 89, faces increasing concerns about her health after a months-long absence from shingles complications.

The age of President Biden, the oldest president in US history, has been the source of attacks from rivals. Biden would be 86 at the end of a second term.

But unlike the two departments made up of elected officials, federal judges’ terms of office are not limited, with one important exception: impeachment by the House and sentencing in the Senate. The feat has occurred only eight times in U.S. history, according to the Federal Judicial Center.

Lifetime tenure – designed to provide independence – allows federal judges to otherwise serve for as long as they wish.

In her suit against the three-judge commission, Newman argued that their investigation circumvents these constitutional protections, and also challenged their characterizations of her mental state and work output.

“The defendants’ orders and threats constitute an attempt to remove Plaintiff from office — and have already unlawfully removed her from hearing cases — without impeachment and in violation of the Constitution,” Newman’s attorney wrote in the complaint.

It is in stark contrast to how her colleagues have portrayed Newman’s behavior. By March, half of her fellow serving judges on the bench had raised their concerns directly with Newman or attempted to do so, court documents show.

Chief Judge Kimberly Moore then took matters into her own hands and opened a formal investigation on March 24 under the federal judiciary’s conduct and disability procedures. Before taking command, Moore showed a draft to Newman, who again refused to retire.

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The investigation is still ongoing, but the three-judge committee has already prevented Newman from taking new cases at the court, even if she keeps her title and salary.

They conducted more than 20 interviews with unnamed court officials, who describe Newman’s behavior as “paranoid,” “agitated” and “bizarre,” the documents show. The employees alleged, among other things, that Newman needs help with basic tasks, claim that the court has tapped her phones and repeatedly appears to have difficulty retaining information in conversations.

“While it’s hard to say this, I believe Judge Newman is just mentally losing it,” a court official said, according to the documents.

One of Newman’s chamber workers allegedly invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during their interview. After another was given the option to move outside Newman’s chambers while he continued his job, Newman allegedly threatened to have him removed by force and arrested.

Newman, who was appointed by former President Reagan in 1984 and will turn 96 next month, became the first person directly appointed to the Federal Circuit.

She is the oldest active federal judge, but the judiciary has generally aged. In 2020, the median age of federal judges was 69, older than at any time in U.S. history, according to research conducted by Francis Chen, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Law School.

As judges get older, there is a lot of speculation about when they will retire and which president could replace them.

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Those battles are even more intense at the Supreme Court, with periodic calls for a judge to retire at a politically convenient time. Just before announcing his presidential campaign, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) this week openly discussed the vacancies he could fill if elected.

But for Newman, who sits on the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which focuses on patent litigation and other specialized litigation, the pressure to resign comes from within the court. It’s a remarkable shift from Newman’s long-respected reputation as the court’s “great dissident.”

“Judge Newman’s dissent has enriched the patent dialogue at the Federal Circuit,” Daryl Lim, associate dean at Penn State Dickinson Law, wrote in a 2017 paper analyzing Newman’s track record.

“A few have managed to gain traction with the Supreme Court, with her peers and with academics,” he continued. “Others are thrown before a future court and a true measure of their influence rests in the hands of history. They have all become part of institutional memory and provide an unvarnished road map of the issues where she saw room for course correction.

Newman’s reluctance to give in to mounting pressure about her abilities is nothing new. Newman had told Lim she had experienced sexism when she was nominated, nearly 40 years ago now.

“When I was nominated to be a judge, a number of people spoke out, including some who I thought were my friends, who said they didn’t think I was up to the job,” Newman said at the time.

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