Archives - Law: Page 4
Author: paul carson (Tue Apr 17, 2007 3:52 pm)
Title: Better Salaries for Judges
Justice Anthony Kennedy of the Supreme Court told the Senate this month that the salaries paid to federal judges are so low that they threaten both the quality and independence of the judiciary. The problem is real, and Congress should quickly pass a bill to fix it.
Justice Kennedy gave some startling examples of judges who had left the bench in search of better-paying employment. In 2005, nine federal judges resigned or retired — the most in any single year. Four went to work for JAMS, a for-profit arbitration and mediation firm where, as Justice Kennedy noted, “they have the potential to earn the equivalent of a district judge’s salary in a matter of months.”
The $165,200 a year earned by a federal district court judge sounds like a lot. But it is not in the upper ranks of the legal world, from which the federal judiciary should be able to recruit new members. A district court judge’s salary is now about half of what a law school dean makes, and roughly what a starting lawyer makes at a top New York law firm. Since 1969, the real pay of federal district court judges fell by about 25 percent, while the real pay of the average American worker rose 18 percent. If judges’ pay had risen at the rate of the average worker, the $165,200 salary would now be $261,000.
One way the Constitution protects the independence of federal judges is by providing that — no matter whom the judges anger or disappoint — their compensation “shall not be diminished during their continuance in office.” But that independence is eroded when inflation erodes salaries and judges must go to Congress with hats in hand.
A bill to raise judges’ salaries would also be an ideal place to impose a much needed ethical reform: a ban on all privately financed “educational” junkets for judges. These trips, which are often paid for by groups that want to persuade judges to take a particular view of the law, inevitably raise worrisome questions about judges’ impartiality.
Capable, independent and impartial judges are essential to the workings of American democracy. Congress should come up with the money necessary to keep the judiciary strong.
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