Op-Ed by yours truly published this date in Florida Today
I am turning 80 this month. I don’t care if I were the smartest politician in government and/or could still climb mountains — I would have no business being a president of the United States, a U.S. Supreme Court justice or a member of Congress at that age.
I feel in good shape, but I definitely have far less physical and mental stamina than I had 10 or 20 years ago, no matter how I try to fake it. While there may be exceptions, that’s the norm.
Of course, some lucky people are one-up in the genes, but the wear and tear of years on the mind and body have an effect on everyone and should not be risked in critical positions of power that affect all Americans. No offense to seniors, it is important that our government employ the fittest and finest among our citizenry.
The private sector is very sensitive to promoting and hiring top level personnel who are far past mainstream. The average age for Fortune 500 CEOs, according to Fortune.com, is 57 years old. Sure there are some that are much older, but they also have a well-paid, well-vetted staff to handle matters that are over their heads. Big business doesn’t cede to the will of the corporate employees; the owners have a lot on the line and they have the obligation and ability to select the best of the best, and that usually means discriminating on the bases of age, as well as credentials.
In the past, we have had politicians who had no business occupying a seat in the Senate or the House. The most egregious example was Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-South Carolina, who served 46 years until 2003, the year he died at 100. He was so frail and under sedation he needed assistance standing up from his chair. Today there are several congressional members over 80 still serving, starting with Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, who’s 88, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, who’s 85.
I salute all octogenarians who continue to serve their country, but there must be a point when it’s time for fresh blood, fresh ideas and vigor.
On the U.S. Supreme Court, stepping down can be a political issue. Thurgood Marshall, who was extremely ill while serving his last two years, openly refused to step down until a Democrat was in the Oval Office. Chief Justice William Rehnquist suffered from thyroid cancer his last year, missing numerous oral arguments before dying in office. These justices relied heavily on law clerks to review cases and write opinions. Today, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is 86 years old, ill and frail.
Do we want our highest court judges and congressional representatives making the most crucial of decisions when they are far past their prime? Particularly disturbing is how much time members of the House must devote toward running for their next elections because they run every two years. Not much time is left for serving the people.
Common sense dictate we need term limits for all the high level representatives in government, with a cut-off at age 80 for U.S. Supreme Court justices. That’s not being cruel, that’s being sensible.
I propose these term and age limits:
- House of Representatives: six terms, 12 years total
- Senators: two terms, 12 years total
- Presidential elections should require candidates to be under age of 80 during their term.
Individual states can create their own markers, but leaders in federal levels should be subject to limits. Just like hiring CEOs, America needs the very best in the prime of life.
In 1983, an assistant to White House Counsel under Ronald Reagan wrote a memo: “Setting a term of, say, 15 years would ensure that federal judges would not lose touch with reality through decades of ivory tower existence. It would also provide a more regular and greater degree of turnover among the judges.” The author was John G. Roberts, current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
I wonder if Justice Roberts still holds the same view today.