Like all beings people grow old. In the later stages of live this usually comes with physical and mental impairments. That is why people older than 70 tend to get nudged out of their office.
But that is not true for the U.S. Congress which fits the definition of a gerontocracy:
A gerontocracy is a form of oligarchical rule in which an entity is ruled by leaders who are significantly older than most of the adult population. In many political structures, power within the ruling class accumulates with age, making the oldest individuals the holders of the most power. Those holding the most power may not be in formal leadership positions, but often dominate those who are. In a simplified definition, a gerontocracy is a society where leadership is reserved for elders.
This comes with political consequences.
Democrats’ plan to replace an ailing senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee fell apart amid Republican opposition Tuesday, leaving the party still grappling with a dilemma over stalled judicial nominees that has inflamed some in the Democratic base and complicated the Senate race to succeed her in California.Republicans prevented Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) from temporarily replacing Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has been absent since February while recovering from shingles, on the panel with another Democrat on Tuesday evening.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) objected to the move, saying it would allow Democrats to “pass out a handful of judges that I think should never be on the bench.”
That leaves Senate Democrats still grappling with how to deal with their oldest member’s extended absence, which has resulted in some of President Biden’s judicial nominees stalling out in the Judiciary Committee without her tiebreaking vote. The powerful committee, which is probing allegations of financial conflicts of interest against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, also lacks the votes to issue subpoenas in her absence.
“It creates a real dilemma for us,” said Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), a member of the Judiciary Committee. “We’re stuck, if it’s [a] 10-10 [split between Democrats and Republicans]. That’s not an opinion — that’s a reality.”
It is a bit weird that a story about a procedural problem caused by the old age of a member of Congress quotes of many old people.
- Senator Dianne Feinstein was born on June 22, 1933. She is 89 years old.
- Senator Charles E. Schumer was born on November 23, 1950. He is 72 years old.
- President Joe Biden was born on November 20, 1942. He is 80 years old.
- Justice Clarence Thomas was born on June 23, 1948. He is 74 years old.
- Senator Lindsey O. Graham was born on July 9, 1955. He is 67 years old.
- Senator Peter Welch was born on May 2, 1947. He is 75 years old.
A bit further down in the story:
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who has said her absence has hampered the committee, said he would not try to “push her into any other decision.”
Biden, who recruited Feinstein to serve on the Judiciary Committee and considers her a long-term friend and a political ally, has also given her space.
Biden’s own age at 80 makes it politically fraught to even gently nudge someone to retire, and he also resisted Democrats’ past calls to push Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer to resign to appoint a younger successor — making him an unlikely ally in the effort.Feinstein has withstood multiple rounds of calls for her to resign over the years, as unflattering anecdotes emerged from some of her colleagues and others about her memory lapses and her perceived cognitive decline, as well as her visible reliance on her aides in public-facing aspects of her job. But the holdup on judicial nominees created by her absence has changed the tenor of the conversation among Democratic activists.
Feinstein’s allies, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif), who is backing Schiff’s candidacy, have long rebuffed the notion that Feinstein should step down on anyone’s terms other than her own. They have bristled at the calls for her to resign and allow California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to appoint a replacement through the end of her term — categorizing those suggestions as a sexist double standard that is not applied to aging male senators.
Former senator Barbara Boxer, who served with Feinstein from 1992 to 2017, called the refusal of Senate Republicans to give Feinstein the time that she needs to recover “disgraceful,” “divisive” and “disrespectful.”
“If a Republican senator had the same situation happen to them as Senator Feinstein, she would be the very first one calling them and saying, ‘What can I do for you?’” Boxer said in an telephone interview. “What they are doing — because it’s expected, because people know the hardball they are playing — is not getting the discussion that it deserves.”
The age of the persons listened to is again way above average.
- Senator Richard J. Durbin was born on November 21, 1944. He is 78 years old.
- Justice Stephen G. Breyer was born on August 15, 1938. He is 84 years old.
- Rep. Nancy Pelosi was born on March 26, 1940. She is 83 years old.
- Former senator Barbara Boxer was born on November 11, 1940. She is 82 years old.
The median age in the United States is 38.5 years. Should a bunch of octogenarians be trusted to decide the fate of a much younger population?
I of course fudged a bit. The story also named Schiff who is 62 and Newsom who is 55 years old. It also has voices of a few other people. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, age 33, is the youngest one. The three reporters who wrote the story are all about 40 years old.
Still, Congress and the Supreme Court have an age problem.
Internationally the average age of the U.S. Congress is unusually high. The average age of 118th Congress is 58 years. In the House of representatives the average is 57 years while the Senators have an average age of 64 years.
The average age of the members of the German Bundestag is 49 years which is only two years more than the median age of the German population. While there is no upper age limit for members of the Bundestag the judges of the German supreme court (Verfassungsgericht) have to retire when they pass 68.
The French Assemblée has a similar average age as the Bundestag. The members British House of Commons has an average age of about 50. (The members of the less powerful House of Lords have an average age of 70. But most of the 770+ members do not attend parliament procedures. The Lords chamber, rarely filled, only has a seating capacity for about 300 members.)
How come that the average age of Congress members is a decade older than the average age of other parliaments?
I genuine do not understand why that is the case.
What are the consequences?
I can think of only bad ones.
How could this be changed?
Introduce a formal age limit for members of Congress and judges. Due to the old average age of Congress this would be difficult to pass if the limit is too low. But a limit of 75 years would probably pass and sounds good to me.
Any better ideas?
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