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Salary Linkage: "An Unfortunate Policy"
The report’s title says it best—“How to Pay the Piper: It’s Time to
Call Different Tunes for Congressional and Judicial Salaries.” Released
in April by the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise
Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), the report describes linkage
of judicial and congressional salaries as “an unfortunate policy
mechanism,” and calls into question many of the commonly held
assumptions on why linkage is good for both legislators and judges.
Now a group of former U.S. Senators and Representatives
has called for Congress to end the practice. The group includes former
Senators Howard Baker, John Danforth, and Sam Nunn, and former
Representatives Richard Gephardt, Henry Hyde, Susan Molinari, Leon
Panetta, and Louis Stokes.
Written by the Brookings Institution’s Russell R. Wheeler
and AEI’s Michael S. Greve, the report delves into the history of
interbranch salary linkage. Linkage in the report means district judges,
members of Congress, deputy cabinet secretaries, and agency heads
receive the same salary. Contrary to some expectations, linkage has not
been consistent in the 116 years since the federal judicial system took
its present form. As the report notes, “Only in 1987 did a firm
member-judge linkage take hold.”
The report describes the federal judicial system and
judges’ salaries, reviews the history of salary linkage, and considers
arguments in support of linkage. And after weighing the case, the
report’s authors conclude that linkage “has no bearing on the question
of what salaries should be and, in fact, distorts the relevant
In particular, their research found:
- Linkage is a one-size-fits-all salary determination for officials with different responsibilities and career anticipations.
- Data are at best inconclusive on whether linkage serves
the practical justification offered for it—that it provides members
greater salary increases than they could otherwise achieve.
- Linkage has not kept subordinate salaries in check.
Salaries for numerous Executive Branch staff are higher than the
salaries for members, district judges, and deputy secretaries.
- Linked salaries do not symbolize equality between the branches.
- No jurisdiction similar to the United States requires salary linkage.
- There is no evidence that informed public opinion supports linkage.
The complete report is available online at www.brookings.edu/views/papers/wheeler/20070418.htm.