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July 2007

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Bill to Adjust Salaries of Federal Judges Introduced in Senate

“For too long, judicial salaries have failed even to keep up with inflation while public and private sector salaries have surged ahead,” said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) as he introduced S. 1638, the Federal Judiciary Salary Restoration Act of 2007.

Leahy was joined by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT); Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV); Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) as co-sponsors of the bill. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) also recently joined as a co-sponsor.

“This bipartisan legislation has broad support,” Leahy said. “President Bush supports a significant pay raise for judges, as does the American Bar Association, as do the deans of 130 of the Nation’s top law schools, civil rights groups, and others.”

S. 1638 would adjust the annual rate of salary of district court judges to $247,800; the salaries of courts of appeals judges to $262,700, and the salaries of Supreme Court justices and chief justice, respectively, to $304,500 and $318,200.

Federal judges have been denied six cost-of-living increases since 1993—increases provided for under the Ethics Reform Act of 1989. As a consequence, a district court judge on the bench since 1993 failed to receive a total of $208,500 in statutorily authorized but denied pay. Appellate court judges have lost even more.

Leahy observed that in 1969 a federal district court judge earned 20 percent more than a law school dean and about 30 percent more than a senior law professor at a top law school. “By contrast, today top law school deans make twice as much as district court judges, and senior law professors at those schools make nearly 50 percent more,” Leahy said. “Many recent law school graduates will make more in their starting salary at a private law firm than we pay to an experienced district court judge.”

Leahy also noted that executive branch employees have been exempt from federal salary caps and that has taken their salaries well above those of federal judges. For example, Security and Exchange Commission trial attorneys can earn up to $180,330; an Assistant Deputy CIO at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency up to $206,790; and an FDIC Chief Learning Officer up to $256,134.

“Our democracy and the rights we enjoy depend on a strong and independent Judiciary,” Leahy said. “During the last few years it has been the courts that have acted to protect our liberties and our Constitution. The independence of the Judiciary is compromised, however, if judges leave the bench for financial reasons. The quality of the Judiciary is threatened if judges’ salaries are inadequate to attract and retain our best legal minds. Given the essential role that the Judiciary plays in our system of government, we should pass this raise to judicial salaries.”