Is there no age limit for a president? Ask the lawyer

Q: Presently, we have two people, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, the latter of whom may run again and possibly win. Both are in their 70s; Biden wil lturn 80 in November and Trump, if he were to become president again, would turn 80 during his term. Do we have no age limit for presidents?

D.N., Hawthorne

Ron Sokol

A: The United States Constitution sets forth that to become president an individual must: (1) be at least 35 years of age, (2) have been a resident for 14 years, and (3) a natural born citizen of the United States. Recent reports indicate, however, that the majority of Americans believe there should be an age limit for elected officials, including president. But what is “too old”?

Perhaps term limits is a solution, although the counter-argument is that it takes time to get one’s footing, to forge relationships and thus become more productive. As to a president’s terms, the 22nd Amendment was enacted to prohibit presidential candidates from serving more than two terms (or 10 years if serving out the remainder of another president’s term) in the years after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to four terms during the Great Depression and World War II.

The 25th Amendment allows an ailing president to step down; if the ailing president is unwilling to do so, there is a process by which the vice president may assume presidential powers and duties.

Bottom line, it will probably take a constitutional amendment to establish an age maximum for any president. Concern about the president’s age is not unwarranted, but we know many people are very productive in their later years, including in their 80s. Thus, the decision whether to set an age maximum is subject to healthy debate.

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Q: Supreme Court justices are appointed for life?

J.G., Irvine

A: Members of the Supreme Court are appointed by the president, conditioned upon approval by the U.S. Senate. The justices serve for life during “good Behavior.” You may have noticed that several justices in recent memory have retired (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is an exception, having died while still on the court). To date, only two Supreme Court justices have ever been removed (i.e., impeached) for misconduct. Practically speaking therefore, appointment to the Supreme Court is “for life.”

Ron Sokol has been a practicing attorney for over 35 years, and has also served many times as a judge pro tem, mediator, and arbitrator. It is important to keep in mind that this column presents a summary of the law, and is not to be treated or considered legal advice, let alone a substitute for actual consultation with a qualified professional.

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