Monday, January 05, 2004

Judicial Pay

The topic of judicial pay is in the news. First, there's Rehnquist's annual report to Congress, in which he complains that Congress failed to "increase the pay of judges beyond a modest cost-of-living adjustment."

Then there's this somewhat biased tidbit from U.S. News and World Report:
Despite a guaranteed job for life, free parking, and cool uniforms, federal judges are still whining about making less than, say, your average Michael Jackson superlawyer. The Supreme Court's chief justice, William Rehnquist, thought he had a deal late last year when Senate leaders and the White House warmed to a plan to 'delink' judicial pay from the minimal annual congressional pay raise and get guaranteed yearly increases on top of their base $142,300-$198,600 salaries. He even thought he'd locked down an immediate hike of an average $25,000. But that was before his pay-plea team met with House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Just before Thanksgiving, we learn, four Supreme Court judges, including Sandra Day O'Connor and Antonin Scalia, had a private sit-down with Hastert to boohoo that lawyers want more money to become judges. His response? 'It's not going to happen,' says a leadership aide. In fact, when Hastert told fellow GOP-ers of the begging session, several grumbled that judges shouldn't get paid better than lawmakers until they start working as hard."
I'd like to see the congressman who does as much real work on his own as does the typical federal judge.

Then there's Howard Bashman's "20 Questions" feature with Judge Tacha of the 10th Circuit, in which she says:
The single most troubling aspect of the salary issue has nothing to do with our living arrangements and basic necessities as judges. It has everything to do with what we are able to do for our children and families. The two issues most often cited are paying for college education and the ability to leave some estate for those we love. The judges I know are far less worried about where they live and what they eat personally than whether they have provided as fully for their families as they had the potential to do. I live in Lawrence, Kansas, but I have four children -- two of whom are currently in private education and one of whom has been in private education. I know firsthand about the agonizing questions that a judge must ask about whether the sacrifice is too much. Though I love my job and have no intention of leaving, I have experienced several fairly sleepless nights over how to meet various tuition responsibilities. Therefore, I think that this is much more than a cost of living issue.

I cannot respond to how many well-known lawyers in private practice have accepted federal court nominations, but I know that there is something of an increasing trend toward nominees who have already been in public service or in academic life. Although these people often make excellent judges, it is important to the diversity on the federal bench that some of our judges come from private practice. Some of the very best judges on my court are those who have had active private practices and have a very firm understanding of litigation in the private law firm context. It would be a serious blow to the federal judiciary if those people were less inclined to come into the judiciary.
I agree with the second paragraph there: Presidents have often appointed practicing lawyers to become federal judges, and they should continue to do so, as practicing lawyers provide a depth of real-world experience to the judiciary. But when successful practicing lawyers are making 3 or 4 or even 10 times as much as a federal judge, the reality is that fewer of them will be willing to be considered for a judgeship. That, in my mind, is the best reason for giving federal judges a pay raise. (The worst reason is provided in Tacha's first paragraph: Paying for their kids' college education. Let the kids pay for their own college education, like many of the rest of us had to do.)


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home