Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne of England in June 1953 when she was 27. She is now 87, has reigned over the U.K for sixty years and shows no signs of relinquishing the throne. Is this really fair the heir-apparent, Prince Charles? At 65, an age at which most people retire, he is still waiting for his mother to step down. The Windsors, especially the women, have enjoyed long lives. Charles’ great grandmother Queen Mary lived into her eighties and his grandmother, the Queen Mother, recently passed away at the age of 101. How long will Charles await his turn? How old will he be then? How many years will he have as King of England? Perhaps his mother should consider these questions and step down gracefully instead of hanging on .. and on .. and on. The only reason for her to continue on the throne is to try and become England’s longest reigning monarch. At present she is in third place , behind Queen Victoria ( 63 years) and Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth I ( 64 years).
The British monarch is only a ceremonial head of state and whether the Queen abdicates in favor of her son or continues to soldier on does not matter so much. The monarch of Spain, King Juan Carlos, is another matter entirely. He ascended to the throne in 1975, two moths after the demise of Generalissimo Franco, Spain’s long time dictator. For most of his reign , he has been an exemplary ruler, rewriting the Spanish constitution to make it more democratic and fending off a military coup in 1981. He has ruled with firmness and wisdom and was loved by his subjects. ( BTW ,I love his telling Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez ” Why don’t you shut up? ” during a summit meeting in 2007). Lately, however , the King seems to have lost his touch. Last year, he was on a luxury elephant hunting safari in Africa when he broke his hip and had to be flown back home to be operated on. Very poor form for a man who was head of the Spanish chapter of the World Wild life Fund; he was promptly fired from that post. Rumors also linked him to a German businesswoman, 48-year-old Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein who had accompanied him on the African safari. His personal peccadilloes aside, his health is a major concern. In the last two years, King Juan Carlos has had to undergo numerous operations, is in pain from a herniated disc and walks with a cane. His health problems and his long recuperation from his multiple operations call into question his fitness to govern. No wonder that, with Spain in the midst of a financial crisis, 62% of the respondents in a recent poll indicated that they want to see him resign. It would make sense particularly since his son , Crown Prince Felipe ( 45) seems to be a worthy successor. The King , however, has other ideas and assured his subjects that he would continue in office and dedicate himself to doing his best by them and the country. Not the news they wanted to hear !!
I did not much care for Pope Benedict XVI whose outlook I thought was too conservative and behind the times. I applaud however the way in which he resigned. He was 78 when he became Pope and, after eight years as the Vicar of Christ, he decided to step down in 2005 stating that old age, and physical and mental weakness made it difficult for him adequately discharge his duties. It was a laudable decision ,( particularly since his successor, Pope Francis, is a breath of fresh air). How different Pope Benedict was from his successor Pope John Paul who carried on to the bitter end even when he was clearly ineffective because of his physical ailments.
Queen Elizabeth. King Juan Carlos. The Pope. Their actions do not much affect us. Those of U.S Supreme Court judges do. Once appointed to the Supreme Court, judges serve as long as they please, routinely working into their late seventies and eighties. Many of them do so not because of the prestige or for personal aggrandizement, but for ideological reasons. They hang in there waiting for a change in the Presidency so that whoever is appointed to replace them will be of a similar bent. In the process, they continue to occupy the bench even when they are in declining health. I also question whether someone that old , even if in apparent good health, is mentally as sharp as was in his earlier years. In all other professions the retirement age for employees, while somewhat elastic, is pegged at 65. Why should it be different for judges? BTW, judges are supposed to rule base their rulings on the merits of the case, irrespective of their personal leanings. Politics should not enter into their deliberations and voting. It has been increasingly apparent that this is not the case and that too often their political views color their voting.
Setting a fixed retirement age ( say 70 or 75) is not a solution since Presidents would try to pack the court with younger and younger judges who could influence the decisions of the Supreme Court for a long, long time. The only solution is to appoint judges to the Supreme Court for a single term , say 6 years. Not a perfect solution since politicians will try to find ways to get around the rule but at least it’s better than the situation we have now.