Judges Are Now Using Their Retirements as Leverage Against the President
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
Court reformers usually focus their attention on expanding or imposing term limits on the Supreme Court, but recent events in the lower courts are making another kind of reform urgent—even inevitable. Judges have begun to leverage their retirements to make inappropriate demands of the executive branch. Congress or the courts have to put a stop to it.
Federal judges have long retired with no strings attached, but that tradition began to crack near the end of the Trump administration. In 2018, Judge Michael Kanne of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit startled the legal community by withdrawing his announced retirement out of pique that his former clerk wouldn’t be selected as his replacement.
Now, under the Biden administration, the dam seems about to burst. In just the past year, at least three federal judges have reportedly used their retirements to set up a quid pro quo. And still other examples are rumored. These jurists have used the carrot of a promised retirement, or the threat of rescinding a retirement already announced, to make demands of the president.