Elderly D.C. judge, 96, suspended from bench by colleagues over concerns about age and mental fitness

September 22, 2023
Ben Marquis

The American people have increasingly been forced to contemplate the nation's gerontocracy, and a significant majority do not like what they see in terms of being governed and judged by elderly officials with obviously declining physical health and mental capabilities.

One prime example in that regard is the case of federal Circuit Judge Pauline Newman, 96, who was just suspended for one year by her fellow judges after she refused to submit to ordered neurological exams sparked by concerns about her mental state, the Washington Examiner reported.

Judge Newman was first appointed to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C. in 1984 by then-President Ronald Reagan, and she has remained an active judge in that role for the past 39 years.

Suspended over concerns about mental fitness to serve

ABC News reported that Judge Newman was suspended for one year on Wednesday by Chief Circuit Judge Kimberly Moore after the Judicial Council of the Federal Circuit, which is comprised of Newman's colleagues, determined that she likely lacked the mental capability to effectively perform her duties as well as that she had engaged in misconduct by repeatedly refusing to submit to mental health exams.

"Unfortunately, earlier this year mounting evidence raised increasing doubts about whether Judge Newman is still fit to perform the duties of her office. When such evidence is brought to the attention of the Chief Judge and the Judicial Council, there is an obligation to investigate the matter," the Council wrote in a Wednesday order.

"The evidence establishes reasonable concerns that Judge Newman suffers from a disability preventing her from effectively discharging the duties of her office," the order continued and further noted that Newman had rejected "multiple requests" from her colleagues to discuss their concerns or assume senior status.

Interviews with staffers reveal extent of problem

The Council revealed that it had conducted more than 20 interviews with court staffers and reported, "Those interviews, along with numerous emails sent by Judge Newman, provided overwhelming evidence that Judge Newman may be experiencing significant mental problems including memory loss, lack of comprehension, confusion, and an inability to perform basic tasks that she previously was able to perform with ease."

It was further alleged through the interviews that the elderly judge had "threatened to have staff arrested, forcibly removed from the building, and fired. She accused staff of trickery, deceit, acting as her adversary, stealing her computer, stealing her files, and depriving her of secretarial support."

The Judicial Council's Wednesday order also exposed how Judge Newman had refused to comply when ordered in May to speak with a neurologist and undergo a "full neuro-psychological exam" and "cognitive testing" -- a refusal that counts as official misconduct and warranted the one-year suspension that could be extended if she continues to refuse to comply with the Council's order.

ABC News reported that Judge Newman has challenged her suspension as both unconstitutional and unnecessary by way of a lengthy legal response filed by her attorney, Greg Dolin, which dismissed as "baseless" and evidence-free the findings of the staffer interviews and submitted declarations of her supposed continued fitness to serve from her own doctors.

Solid bipartisan majorities favor age limits and mental competency tests for elderly officials

Though admittedly at the upper end of the age spectrum, Judge Newman is far from alone in being viewed as an elderly official who lacks the physical and mental fitness to effectively serve, with some examples including current and former presidents Joe Biden and Donald Trump or senators like Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY), among many others.

In November 2022, the Reuters/Ipsos pollsters found that roughly two-thirds of the American people believed that upper age limits should be imposed on elected officials like presidents and members of Congress as well as appointed officials like Supreme Court justices -- which presumably would extend to other federal judges in the lower circuit and district courts.

Along those same lines and more recently, The Washington Post reported on a poll that found that in addition to around three-quarters of Americans favoring upper age limits on elected officials -- and presumably appointed judges as well -- a similar number also favored mandatory mental competency tests for officials over the age of 75.

Furthermore, there was only a marginal partisan gap in those responses to the early September poll from The Economist/YouGov, as both of those proposals -- age limits and mental competency tests -- enjoyed solid majority support from Democrats, independents, and Republicans alike.

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