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Tales from the gerontocracy


Here’s a sad story that’s going to become increasingly more common, in a society that has made mandatory retirement ages illegal for almost everyone:

Judge Pauline Newman’s colleagues on a federal appeals court in Washington have called her “the heroine of the patent system” and “the most beloved colleague on our court.” But on Wednesday, they also told Judge Newman, 96, that she had been suspended amid growing concerns about her mental fitness.

The order suspending Judge Newman for one year followed an unusually bitter and public dispute over her cognitive state and her ability to continue to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, a specialized court that hears patent cases.

Judge Newman, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, has vigorously challenged her colleagues’ investigation into her fitness and has said she is mentally able to do her job. Earlier this year, she filed a federal lawsuit accusing the chief judge of the court, Kimberly A. Moore, and other colleagues of violating her due process rights.

In the unanimous order, which was issued by the court’s active judges, Judge Newman’s colleagues wrote that they had no choice but to suspend her, despite her status as “a highly valued and respected colleague,” widely recognized for her contributions to the court and knowledge of the patent system.

More than 20 interviews with members of the court staff, along with emails sent by Judge Newman, “provided overwhelming evidence,” the order said, that she “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.”

The order said that evidence pointed to instances in which Judge Newman, when struggling with basic tasks, “became frustrated, agitated, belligerent and hostile.”

“With no rational reason — other than frustration over her own confusion — Judge Newman has threatened to have staff arrested, forcibly removed from the building and fired,” the order said. “She accused staff of trickery, deceit, acting as her adversary, stealing her computer, stealing her files and depriving her of secretarial support.”

Her refusal to comply with a special committee’s order that she be examined by a neurologist and undergo neuropsychological tests “constitutes serious misconduct,” the order said. It said she could be suspended again in one year if she continued to refuse to undergo the required tests.

This is related obliquely to Scott’s post the other day about Biden’s age. It’s possible to hold two ideas in one’s mind at the same time:

(1) All other things being equal, it’s a really bad idea for the president of the United States to be in his mid-80s, which Biden will be in for most of his second term.

(2) Point (1) is completely irrelevant to the practical politics of America in 2023, because Biden is going to be the Democratic nominee, Trump is going to be the Republican nominee, and other those specific circumstances, Biden’s age becomes a total non-factor, for reasons that are too obvious to state. One of those obvious reasons that should be stated anyway is that Trump is nearly as old as Biden, so why is anybody even talking about this, besides the media’s compulsive need for “balance,” i.e. Trump is a criminal seditionist and a one-man crime wave, but on the other hand Biden is old. That is going to be the literal framing of the 2024 election!

But the problem of the gerontocracy is a very real one, that’s getting worse all the time. And demographics are only going to exacerbate the problem.

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