Gregory v. Ashcroft

LOCATION:Residence of Ellis Gregory

DOCKET NO.: 90-50
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1990-1991)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 501 US 452 (1991)
ARGUED: Mar 18, 1991
DECIDED: Jun 20, 1991

James B. Deutsch – on behalf of the Respondent
Jim J. Shoemake – on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case

Under Article V, Section 26, of Missouri’s Constitution, state court judges must retire at the age of seventy. The two petitioners in this case, both of whom were Missouri state judges, challenged the state constitution’s retirement requirement on legislative and constitutional grounds.


Did Missouri’s mandatory retirement requirement for its state court judges violate the the 1967 federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause?

Media for Gregory v. Ashcroft

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 18, 1991 in Gregory v. Ashcroft

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 20, 1991 in Gregory v. Ashcroft

Sandra Day O’Connor:

The second case which I announce is Gregory against Ashcroft, No. 90-50.

This case comes to us on certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

The petitioners are Missouri State judges who challenge a provision in the Missouri State Constitution calling for the mandatory retirement of all state judges at age 70.

Petitioners contend that this provision violates the Federal Age Discrimination and Employment Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the Federal Constitution.

We hold, in the opinion filed today, that the Missouri mandatory retirement provision is valid as against both challenges.

This case concerns a state constitutional provision through which the people of Missouri establish a qualification for those who sit as their judges.

This is a decision of the most fundamental sort for a sovereign state.

Through the structure of its government and the character of those who exercise government authority, a state defines itself as a sovereign.

For congress to interfere with this decision would upset the constitutional balance of federal and state powers.

We will not likely assume that Congress has intended to upset this balance.

Consequently, in such a case, we will not read a federal statute as usurping state authority, unless Congress has stated plainly in the language of the statute that it intends such intrusion.

The Age Discrimination and Employment Act does, plainly cover state employees.

It just as plainly excludes from its coverage certain important state government officials.

In particular, the Act excludes elected officials and their appointees on the policy making level.

Petitioners in this case were appointed to office by the governor of Missouri an elected official.

The governor contends that the petitioners are appointees on the policy making level and, therefore, exempt from the Federal Act’s coverage.

One can fairly debate whether judges make policy in the sense intended by Congress in the Age Discrimination and Employment Act, but in the context of a statute that plainly excludes most important state officials, a term appointee on the policy making level is sufficiently broad that we cannot conclude that the statute plainly covers appointed state judges.

Therefore, by applying the plain statement rule, we conclude that it does not.

We also conclude that the Missouri mandatory retirement provision is valid under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Age is not a suspect classification under that clause.

Petitioners assert no fundamental interest in serving its judges, and the state need only demonstrate a rational basis for the retirement provision in order for it to withstand constitutional scrutiny.

And we conclude for reasons set forth in our opinion that there is such a rational basis.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

Justice White has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, and concurring in the judgment in which Justice Stevens has joined; Justice Blackmun has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Marshall has joined.