Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf, who announced this week that he will take senior status, has a proud legacy. He has overseen major cases, including the corruption trial of former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi. He issued the order that forced the FBI to reveal that James “Whitey” Bulger had been a government informant. He used his perch as chief judge to educate students about legal issues, and advance the cause of human rights. And, in taking senior status, a designation that allows him to continue overseeing cases with a reduced docket while clearing a slot for a new appointee, Wolf is sending another important message: It’s good to get new blood on the court.
Of the 12 judges in the Massachusetts district, only one is in her 40s and one in his 50s; all the rest are in their 60s and above. They have lifetime tenure, which is crucial to preserving their independence, but can take senior status if they are 65 and have been on the bench 15 years. But too few take it. Judges who believe in diversity — including generational diversity — might take a cue from Wolf, who will be 66 when he steps down from active service next year.
Wolf has spoken about the benefits of having more judges with youthful idealism and different cultural experiences. He has also touted the advantages for older judges in taking senior status — time to travel, teach, and consult; Wolf himself plans to meet with judges in the Czech Republic and Slovakia about the role of an independent judiciary. Wolf’s contributions to the legal profession, and the wider society, will only be enhanced by his decision. He should have decades of important work ahead. And in clearing the way for a new colleague, he’s put the interests of the court ahead of his own.