96-Year-Old Federal Judge Barred From Hearing Cases As Concerns Rise Over Her Mental Fitness
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 3: Pauline Newman, a 95-year-old judge on the U.S. Court Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in her office in Washington, DC.
Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Judge Pauline Newman, 96, was suspended Wednesday from her seat on the Washington-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit after she refused to undergo medical testing as some raised concerns about her mental fitness.

The federal judge was barred from hearing cases for a year by a judicial panel of her colleagues, but Newman, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, accused them of baselessly claiming she is unfit to push her out of office. The judge insists that she maintains the mental and physical capacities to remain on the bench, The Associated Press reported

The council justified its suspension by saying it has “reasonable concerns” that Newman “suffers from a disability preventing her from effectively discharging the duties of her office.”

“Judge Newman has been having trouble recalling events, conversations, and information just days old and having trouble comprehending basic information that court staff communicate to her,” the council wrote.

The council also said it conducted more than 20 interviews in its investigation, which, “along with numerous emails sent by Judge Newman, provided overwhelming evidence that Judge Newman may be experiencing significant mental problems including memory loss, lack of comprehension, confusion, and an inability to perform basic tasks that she previously was able to perform with ease.”

Writing more than 300 dissenting opinions over her nearly 40-year career, Newman has been lauded as the “Federal Circuit’s Great Dissenter” and the “heroine of the patent system.” She served on a presidential committee that helped create the Federal Circuit in 1982 and was then appointed by Reagan to serve on the court, according to The Washington Post. 

Newman’s lawyers wrote that she was first asked to step down in March by Chief Judge Kimberly Moore, who said she had “probable cause to believe” Newman had a cognitive disability. After her colleagues initially raised concerns about her continuing to serve, Newman filed a federal lawsuit in May, arguing that they were violating the Constitution, which has no mandated retirement age for federal judges appointed for life. 

Newman refused to be evaluated by doctors picked by a special committee, but her lawyers said the judge was checked by two independent physicians who determined she was mentally fit to remain on the bench. 


“In light of the considered opinions of now two independent expert practitioners, both of whom have found that Judge Newman is fully competent and entirely capable of continuing in office, the Committee, even if it ever had a legitimate basis to question Judge Newman’s competence, has no further basis for requiring additional testing or continuing to question Judge Newman’s abilities,” Newman’s lawyers said, according to Fox News.

The fight between Newman and her colleagues comes after numerous politicians on Capitol Hill have shown concerning signs of mental lapses as Congress and the White House are home to an aging group of career politicians.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), 81, worried colleagues and voters after freezing mid-sentence during a press conference for the second time earlier this month, while 90-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has faced health struggles and mental lapses after being absent from D.C. for ten weeks while she recovered from the shingles virus. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden, 80, has fallen, appeared lost, and said undistinguishable words multiple times while appearing in front of crowds and the press. 

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