Should There Be an Age Limit on Public Officials?
September 19, 2023 by
Several recent incidents have caused the public, members of the media, and some elected officials to raise alarm bells about the advanced age of several government officials. President Joe Biden (age 80),1 Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.; age 81),2 and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.; age 90)3 have all had moments in which they appeared confused, stammered, or in some way appeared to be not in control of their faculties. Nineteen members of Congress are at least 80 years old and the median age in the Senate is 65.4 Additionally, both President Biden and former President Donald Trump—the current frontrunners to be their parties’ presidential nominee in 2024—would be the oldest president ever elected.5
WATCH: “Is It Time for Age Limits for Politicians?” from CNN
In early September, Representative John James (R-Mich.) introduced a resolution to amend the Constitution to place an age limit on the president, vice president, and members of Congress. If adopted, the amendment would bar people who would reach the age of 75 while in office from running for that office.6 According to a recent CBS News/YouGov poll, 76 percent of Americans either strongly support or somewhat support an age limit on elected officials.7 That number is up from 58 percent in a January 2022 poll.8
READ: Full Text of Representative James’ Resolution
According to an Axios breakdown of the polling data, many respondents felt that the rigors of the job of president are too demanding for someone over 75, and 80 percent of respondents feared that an elected official over the age of 80 would be out of touch with the times.9
While it is clear that public opinion is shifting on this issue, many also argue against using age as a factor. Nancy Jecker, a University of Washington bioethics and philosophy professor, argues, “Age is sometimes used as a marker for poor health. But it’s a really blunt instrument.” Instead, she argues, mental acuity tests would focus on specific job-related functions.10
Presidential hopeful and former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley proposed that elected officials over the age of 75 be compelled to take mental competency tests.11 Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.; age 81) pushed back on the idea: “I think that’s absurd. … We are fighting racism, we’re fighting sexism, we’re fighting homophobia, I think we should also be fighting ageism.”12
While the amendment introduced by Representative James would have a long road to ratification, it is clear that political leaders and the public are more open to age limits than in previous years, and age may play a role in many voters’ decisions.
- What have you heard or seen about the age of political figures in recent months?
- Do you believe there should be an upper age limit on people who hold elected office? Why or why not?
- Do you agree with Senator Sanders and others who call age limits and cognitive tests ageist? Why or why not?
Potential Follow-Up Action
Because the amendment to impose an upper limit on the age of members of Congress, the president, and the vice president is very new, many members of Congress have not weighed in. This is a good time to make your voice heard on this issue. Read the full text of the amendment (H.J. Res. 87).
Once you have an opinion on the issue, reach out to your members of Congress to make your opinion known. If you don’t know your members of Congress, you can find their names and contact information here.
As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.
Featured Image Credit: Biden image: Nhac Nguyen/AFP via Getty Images | McConnell image: Jacquelyn Martin / AP
 NPR: https://www.npr.org/2023/07/31/1190675707/mcconnell-feinstein-medical-episodes-maximum-age-limits
 NBC News: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2024-election/biden-trump-old-voters-age-issue-rcna104316
 Congress.gov: https://www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/house-joint-resolution/87/text?s=1&r=1&q=%7B%22search%22:%22age+limit%22%7D
 YouGov: https://today.yougov.com/topics/politics/articles-reports/2023/09/06/majorities-americans-support-age-limits-congress-a
 YouGov: https://today.yougov.com/topics/politics/articles-reports/2022/01/19/elected-officials-maximum-age-limit-poll
 The Hill: https://thehill.com/homenews/3873452-haleys-mental-competency-tests-could-rock-washington-but-would-be-hard-to-implement/
 The Hill: https://thehill.com/homenews/sunday-talk-shows/3865332-sanders-says-haleys-call-for-competency-test-abusrd/