U.S. Judiciary: Judicial Base Pay Increase Not In House & Senate Appropriations Committee Reports

[Update 12/15/07: For more information about judicial pay legislation pending in the House of Representatives (H.R. 3753), click here.]

A provision for judicial base pay increase, sought by Chief Justice John Roberts (see background, below, for more information), is not in the appropriations for the 2008 fiscal year.

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee has issued its report for the appropriations bill (H.R. 2829) for fiscal year 2008. The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has issued its report for H.R. 2829. I cite relevant portions of the House and Senate reports below.

House report 110-207:

TITLE III–THE JUDICIARY

The funds recommended by the Committee in title III of the accompanying bill are for the operation and maintenance of United States Courts and include the salaries of judges, magistrates, probation and pretrial services officers, and supporting personnel and other expenses of the Federal Judiciary.

In addition to direct appropriations, the Judiciary collects fees and has various carryover authorities. The Judiciary uses these non-appropriated funds to offset its direct appropriation requirements. Consistent with prior year practices, the Committee expects the Judiciary to submit a financial plan, allocating all sources of available funds including appropriations, fee collections, and carryover balances. The Judiciary should consider this financial plan to be the baseline for determining if reprogramming notification is required. The Committee expects the plan to be submitted within 90 days after enactment of this Act.

The Committee encourages the Judiciary to explore ways to increase outreach to minority law students with the goal of increasing the number of minorities in clerkship positions.

Senate Report 110-129 (emphasis added below mine):

Established under Article III of the Constitution, the judicial branch of Government is a separate but equal branch. The Federal Judiciary consists of the Supreme Court, United States Courts of Appeals, District Courts, Bankruptcy Courts, Court of International Trade, Court of Federal Claims and several other entities and programs. The organization of the judiciary, the district and circuit boundaries, the places of holding court, and the number of Federal judges are legislated by the Congress and signed into law by the President.

The Committee’s recommended funding levels support the Federal judiciary’s role of providing equal justice under the law and include sufficient funds to support this critical mission. The recommended funding level includes the salaries of judges and support staff and the operation and security of our Nation’s courts.

The judicial branch is reminded that it, too, is subject to the same funding constraints facing the executive and legislative branches and continues to urge the Federal judiciary to devote its resources primarily to the retention of staff. Further, the judiciary is encouraged to contain controllable costs such as travel, construction, and other non-essential expenses.

In addition, the judiciary is reminded that section 705 of the accompanying act applies to the judicial as well as the executive branch.

Background

In the beginning of 2007, the Chief Justice of the United States, John Roberts, in his 2006 year end report for the judiciary, argued that the judges of the federal judiciary should receive a salary increase.

Author’s Note: There is a bill in the U.S. Senate, S.1638, which would provide for a substantial increase of the base pay of federal judges.

Federal Court Present base salary S. 1638 base salary (proposed)
District Court $165,200 $247,800
Court of Appeals $175,100 $262,700
Supreme Court Associate Justice $203,000 $304,500
Chief Justice of the U.S. $212,100 $318,200

Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals argued that a salary increase for judges is not necessary as other perquisites are not included in the base salary (the value of the federal pension, health insurance benefits, ability to earn outside income).

The most serious omission in Chief Justice Roberts’s report is the other compensation that judges receive besides their salaries. Most judges who want to can teach a course or a seminar at a law school and receive another $25,000 in pay (the ceiling on outside income, apart from investment income and royalties, and a very low ceiling given current law school salaries—which benefits judges, since they can teach less to reach their ceiling, as it is an ever-diminishing percentage of a professor’s salary). The federal judicial pension is extremely generous–a judge can retire at age 65 with only 15 years of judicial service (or at 70 with 10 years), and receive his full salary for life; nor does he make any contribution to funding the pension. The health benefits are also good. Above all, a judgeship confers very substantial nonpecuniary benefits. The job is less taxing than practicing law, more interesting (though this is partly a matter of taste), and highly prestigious. Judges exercise considerable power, not only over the litigants in the cases before them but also in shaping the law for the future, and power is a highly valued form of compensation for many people. Judges are public figures, even if only locally, to a degree that few even very successful lawyers are. And judges are not at the beck and call of impatient and demanding clients, as even the most successful lawyers are.

The portion of the House Appropriations subcommittee report concerning outreach for minority law clerks reflects testimony given by Justices Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas to the House Appropriations subcommittee chair, Representative Jose Serrano (NY-16).

Additional work will have to be done for H.R. 2829, as the House and Senate versions contain different terms.

For more information on the U.S. federal budget process, click here.

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