96-Year-Old Federal Judge Has Been Asked to Step Down. She Won't. Should She Be Forced Out?

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

We all age differently. Loss of mental acuity comes at different paces, with some 80-year-olds exhibiting no obvious mental decline. Joe Biden sits on the opposite side of the spectrum showing clear and unmistakable signs of cognitive decline. One need only watch a video from his time as Obama’s sidekick to see that seven years ago, Biden could at least string words together. What Biden said years ago was still, usually, a fiction but the words were discernable. Not anymore. Others at 80 show little metal degradation. But what about at 96?


Few people reach that age. Pauline Newman has. In 1984, at the age of 57, Newman was appointed to the federal bench by Ronald Reagan. By the time she was appointed, Newman had lived a legendary life. In her youth, she flew down highways on motorcycles, and when that wasn’t enough of an adrenaline rush, she flew airplanes and drove racecars. Newman also had a brilliant mind. She earned a double major at Yale and went to work as a research scientist as a chemist. Brilliant as she was, she was still treated with disrespect because she was a woman. Her male bosses wanted her to work in the library. She threatened to quit. While working at American Cynamid, Newman was one of the inventors of a synthetic “dirt-resistant” fabric. After three years, she had had enough.

Seeing no future in her research position, Newman took her life savings and bought a “boat ticket” to Paris. In Paris, she bartended until her money ran out.

Returning to the US, perhaps sensing that she needed to do more, Newman earned another bachelor’s degree and a law degree. She worked her way from patent lawyer to the director of Patent Trademark and Licensing before Reagan appointed her to the US Court of Appeals, where she has been ever since. Newman was the first person who was appointed to the Court of Appeals without first being a judge. Newman has been nothing short of a legend. Her dissents have often been cited by the Supreme Court. There is no one on the Court of Appeals who knows more about patent law than Newman. But Newman is now 96 years old. One would think, at 96, Newman would be unable to do her job and should retire. The Chief Judge on the Court of Appeals, Kimberly Moore, wants her out. Moore has offered her “senior status,” but that was rejected by Newman.


Newman, who lives in the Watergate Complex, took a visit from Moore and two other federal judges. They wanted Newman to take senior status because Newman is “totally disabled physically, and mentally incompetent.” Moore knows that short of extraordinary circumstances, like impeachment and removal by the Senate, Newman cannot be forced out. Federal judges hold their positions via Article III and through “good behavior.” Good behavior has been interpreted as a life appointment. But Newman is 96—the oldest sitting judge in the nation.

Newman’s colleague and friend, Judge Alan D. Lourie, sat down with Newman and apparently tried to convince her to take senior status. Lourie was told that Moore thinks Newman is unfit. Newman asked Lourie what he thought. He said: “I had no reason to disbelieve what she told us.”

With that shot across Newman’s bow, Newman got up from her couch and showed Lourie the door. She isn’t quitting. In fact, she’s suing her colleagues.

Should Newman quit? Her colleagues think she should. Newman never married and has no children. There is no family member to persuade her to step down. But should she? Newman was a brilliant woman. A brilliant scientist. A brilliant lawyer. A brilliant judge. Should she step down?


Her answer has been consistent. No, and hell no. In an hour-long interview with a Bloomberg reporter, Newman showed confidence and “full command” and answered complicated questions. No “minder” was in the room to help her either physically or with answering questions. She never said, “I don’t remember.”  But Chief Judge Kimberly Moore clearly wants her out. And it has become personal. Newman sees her age as a lazy attack by Moore for her frequent dissents. In the span of 18 months, she wrote 23 concurring or dissenting opinions.

In the Bloomberg article, there is an embedded recording of Newman speaking to the reporter. Newman’s voice sounds “old,” but she is clearly in command and never sounds tired or confused. I’ve been around 96 years old. An hour is a long time to keep them engaged, and Newman had no problem doing that. I’ve never liked bullies. And Newman seems to be a unicorn – a completely capable judge who happens to be 96 years old.

Newman said:

If the judges on a court can just vote out someone they don’t like, for whatever reason — because there are lots of strong personalities on the judiciary and they’re not all so lovable — then that’s not what the nation is entitled to. You need a few grouches to dig out the truth.


Newman is no Joe Biden. I’m on Team Newman.


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