Based on both his record and his background, we expect Gordon MacDonald will do a fine job as New Hampshire’s next chief justice. The current attorney general appears to have earned praise from across the legal and political communities.
It is a waste of valuable resources, however, that a retirement rule made more than 200 years ago continues to force so many fine justices to step down from service.
MacDonald would replace Robert Lynn, who became chief justice just two years ago. He turns 70 this year. He replaced Linda Dalianis. also forced into retirement. Likewise, associate justice Carol Ann Conboy was constitutionally required to give up her seat, which was another loss for New Hampshire justice.
New Hampshire’s Constitution is a fine instrument in many respects and has served the state well. But when it was written, age 70 was near the end of life for most. Perhaps, too, its writers were using that age as a form of mandatory term limits.
A change in our constitution could easily include a form of term limit for justices at age 70. They could be required to be reviewed for fitness every two years that they serve beyond that milestone. Mental and physical fitness to serve on the bench should always be considered for the job. But if Granite Staters keep on booting out qualified and competent judges, it is we who should have our heads examined.