Is 39 too young to be an Appeals Court Judge?

According to Republicans the answer is: only if you are a Democrat.  Interesting article in Slate about how Republicans have been consciously choosing young judges for years as an intentional political strategy, whereas Democrats have been slow to catch on.  Of course, when Democrats nominate a young judicial nominee, e.g., Godwin Liu, he is apparently too young and inexperienced.  Here’s some of the telling details:

Aside from Liu, none of President Obama’s nominees to the federal appellate courts are under 40. Only two are under 45. On average, Obama’s nominees are more than 54 years old, which is four years older than the nominees under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. But the averages tell only part of the story. Consider these statistics: Of the 50 youngest appellate judges nominated since the Reagan administration, 41 were tapped by Republicans. Of the 30 youngest judges, 28 are Republican nominees; and the 18 youngest are all Republican nominees. By contrast, if you take the 50 oldest judges nominated since Reagan, nearly half of them were nominated by Democrats. For decades now, and as a matter of strategy, Republicans have been nominating younger judges. The real question is why Democrats have been doing just the opposite.

What Democrats seem to have missed is that judicial age matters. The list of the 50 youngest appellate judges appointed since the Reagan presidency—all nominated under the age of 45—reads like a Who’s Who of most accomplished federal judges of our time: … By this point in his first term, President Bush had nominated at least a half dozen judges who were 42 years old or younger. But President Obama has nominated just one: Goodwin Liu.

That fact was not lost on Liu’s opponents. Republican senators immediately pointed to Liu’s youth and lack of experience as a disqualifying factor, even though they had previously defended similarly inexperienced Republican nominees…

Youth became a disqualifying factor in Goodwin Liu’s case precisely because it made him such a strong candidate for eventual elevation to the high court. “The bigger concern is that he’ll wind up on the Supreme Court,” Curt Levey of the conservative Committee for Justice told the Associated Press. And in the National Review Online, Ed Whelan explicitly noted Liu’s age, denounced his inexperience, and suggested that Liu was a “plotting his path to a Ninth Circuit seat as a stepping-stone to his goal of a Supreme Court nomination.”

Obviously, Democrats have not been blocking the young Republican nominees.  Just one more example of partisan asymmetry.  I thought for a few minutes if Liu really is old enough to be an Appeals Court Judge, as he is just a bit older than me.  I decided that by the age of 40, if you really have the abilities, you are probably good enough for anything.  Sure, experience is great, but I’m not sure in 5 more years that would necessarily help Liu better interpret federal and Constitutional law.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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