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Texas voters refused to increase the retirement age of judges during Tuesday’s constitutional amendment election. Proposition 13 was the only amendment on Texans’ ballots that did not pass.
The measure would have increased the mandatory retirement age for judges from 75 to 79 and would have increased the minimum retirement age from 70 to 75. Proposition 13 supporters argued that people are working later into their lives and longer-serving judges bring much needed experience to the bench.
Few groups publicly opposed the amendment and House Joint Resolution 107 passed both the House and Senate with broad bipartisan support.
A House Committee Report on the resolution outlined one reason to increase the retirement ages: Given “today's longer life expectancies, 75 is no longer a reasonable age to mandate someone step down from the bench.”
But ultimately, voters did not agree. Over 60% of voters declined to increase the retirement age, according to preliminary election results.
Constitutional amendments rarely fail, though in 2019 voters rejected a proposition that would have allowed elected municipal court judges to serve multiple municipalities at the same time.
With the amendment’s failure, some high level judges will be forced to retire in the coming years. That includes Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, who will be 75 next year. Hecht declined to comment about his future plans.
If reelected, five other appellate court judges will turn 75 during their next term, according to the Houston Chronicle: Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrmann and Court of Criminal Appeals Justices Sharon Keller, Barbara Hervey, Bert Richardson and Scott Walker.
"We will continue to serve the great State of Texas as long as we are able," Hervey and Richardson said in a joint statement.
State district court Judge Doug Woodburn, who serves in the 108th district in Amarillo, is 74 years old and had intended to run for reelection if Proposition 13 passed. Woodburn had recruited a campaign treasurer and began raising funds. He said he was "flabbergasted" to learn the measure did not pass.
"I'll have to sit back and figure out if I want to do anything else," said Woodburn, who worked as a family lawyer before getting elected to the bench in 2009. "I suspect that my wife and I will just fade quietly into the sunset."
The age of elected officials is likely to be on voters' minds during next year’s presidential race that could result in another showdown between President Joe Biden, who is 80 years old, and former President Donald Trump, who is 77 years old.
Rep. Cody Thane Vasut, R-Angleton, was one of the authors of HJR 107. He suggested Biden's age was on the minds of voters when they rejected his constitutional amendment.
“It is possible voters have seen how incompetent President Biden is and do not want someone as a judge who is like him, even though Texas judges, unlike President Biden, can be removed through a variety of procedures for incompetency regardless of age,” Vasut said in a statement to The Texas Tribune.