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Judicial Conference Seeks New Judgeships — Adequate Compensation for Judges and Others

Contact: David Sellers, 202-502-2600

Spurred by increasing caseloads and the rapidly declining value of judicial salaries, the Judicial Conference of the United States today voted to ask Congress to create new judgeships and to adjust the pay of the President, judges, members of Congress, and senior executive branch officials.

In agreeing to vigorously seek an annual pay adjustment for government leaders, the Conference also called for an easing of the pay compression for officials in all three branches of government by supporting an increase in the President’s salary. The President’s salary ($200,000 a year) has not changed in the past 30 years, and any change that were to occur would be barred by Article II of the Constitution from affecting the current President. However, if the President’s salary is not adjusted before January 20, 2001, it will remain fixed at least until the next presidential oath of office on January 20, 2005.

Between 1789 and 1987 the salaries of the Vice President, Speaker of the House, and Chief Justice have varied between 16 and 58 percent of the President’s salary. Currently they are 88 percent of the President’s salary. The problem of salary compression also means that some senior government officials are paid nearly as much and in some cases more than judges. Since 1969, inflation has gone up 100 percent more than the growth in judges’ salaries over the same time period. Each judge’s annual salary is worth about $22,000 less today than it was in 1992.

At its biannual meeting today, the Conference also agreed to transmit to Congress a request for an additional seven permanent and four temporary judgeships in the courts of appeals and 33 permanent and 25 temporary district judgeships. The Conference also will ask Congress to convert 10 existing temporary judgeships to permanent positions in the district courts. New judgeships were last created in 1990. Since then, appeals filings have climbed by more than 30 percent and the number of cases filed in the district courts has increased by more than 20 percent.

In addition, in recognition of congressional interest in judicial vacancies, for the first time the Conference used a process for evaluating the workload situation in courts with low weighted caseloads where it may be appropriate to recommend not filling or eliminating a vacant judgeship. None of the courts of appeals met this criteria. However, the Conference today agreed that it will advise the President and the Senate that any single existing or future vacancy not be filled in the districts of Delaware, District of Columbia, Wyoming, and the Southern District of West Virginia. Presently, only the District of Columbia has a judicial vacancy. There are three vacant positions on the court.

In other action the Conference:

  • Voted to oppose the provisions expanding federal court jurisdiction over Y2K class actions in bills (S. 96, S. 461, and H.R. 775) currently under consideration by the 106th Congress. Eliminating the amount in controversy and permitting minimal diversity for Y2K class actions in federal court can be expected to shift most of this litigation into federal court. Federalization of class actions will deprive the judicial system of the contributions that state courts would otherwise make in meeting the substantial burdens that Y2K litigation may impose. One of the primary objectives of this legislation is to facilitate the resolution of Y2K claims, and this shift of class action litigation holds the potential for overwhelming the federal courts, resulting in substantial costs and delays. In addition, the proposed Y2K class action amendments are inconsistent with the objective of preserving the federal courts as tribunals of limited jurisdiction and the reality that the federal courts are staffed and supported to function as courts of limited jurisdiction.
  • Received a report on the impending cut-off of all Judiciary appropriations on June 15, 1999. When Congress and the President agreed on the Commerce, State, Justice, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies appropriations bill for fiscal year 1999, they provided sufficient funds for operations only until June 15. It was assumed that the Supreme Court would resolve the debate over census sampling by that time. While the Supreme Court has ruled in the matter, the dispute does not appear to be resolved. As a result, the Judicial Branch’s funding is trapped in a disagreement between the Legislative and Executive Branches. As a separate, independent branch of government, the Judiciary should not be caught in the middle of a political dispute between the other two branches. Unless the Judiciary is removed from this dispute and funded through the remainder of the fiscal year, funds appropriated to operate the federal court system will run out on June 15.
  • Endorsed the use of technologies in the courtroom subject to the availability of funds and priorities set by the Conference’s Automation and Technology Committee. In addition, the Conference urged courtroom technologies — including video evidence presentation systems, videoconferencing systems, and electronic methods of taking the record — be considered as necessary and integral parts of courtrooms undergoing construction or major renovation and that these technologies be retrofitted into existing courtrooms or those undergoing alterations as appropriate.
  • Voted to continue to support the efforts of its Committees on Codes of Conduct and Financial Disclosure to educate and inform judges of their recusal responsibilities in lieu of encouraging all courts to maintain in the clerk’s office a recusal list for each judge that would be available to litigants upon written request. Relevant Judicial Conference committees already have enhanced education and training in an attempt to ensure that judges are aware of their recusal responsibilities and is developing model checklists for judges to use in preparing recusal lists that can be used to identify conflicts.
  • Agreed to transmit to Congress proposed legislation to create 24 new bankruptcy judgeships. New bankruptcy judgeships last were established in 1992. The number of bankruptcy filings has increased by nearly 500,000 from 1992 to 1998.

The Judicial Conference of the United States is the principal policy-making body for the federal court system. The Chief Justice serves as the presiding officer of the Conference, which is composed of the chief judges of the 13 courts of appeals, a district judge from each of the 12 geographic circuits, and the chief judge of the Court of International Trade. The Conference meets twice a year to consider administrative and policy issues affecting the court system and to make recommendations to Congress concerning legislation involving the Judicial Branch. A list of Conference members is attached.

March 1999

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Presiding

Chief Judge Juan R. Torruella,  First Circuit
Judge Joseph A. DiClerico, Jr., District of New Hampshire

Chief Judge Ralph K. Winter, Jr., Second Circuit
Chief Judge Charles P. Sifton, Eastern District of New York

Chief Judge Edward R. Becker, Third Circuit
Chief Judge Donald E. Ziegler, Western District of Pennsylvania

Chief Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, Fourth Circuit
Chief Judge Charles H. Haden II, Southern District of West Virginia

Chief Judge Carolyn Dineen King, Fifth Circuit
Judge Hayden W. Head, Jr., Southern District of Texas

Chief Judge Boyce F. Martin, Jr., Sixth Circuit
Judge Thomas A. Wiseman, Jr., Middle District of Tennessee

Chief Judge Richard A. Posner, Seventh Circuit
Judge Robert L. Miller, Jr., Northern District of Indiana

Chief Judge Pasco M. Bowman II, Eighth Circuit
Judge James M. Rosenbaum, District of Minnesota

Chief Judge Procter Hug, Jr., Ninth Circuit
Judge Lloyd D. George, District of Nevada

Chief Judge Stephanie K. Seymour, Tenth Circuit
Judge Ralph G. Thompson, Western District of Oklahoma

Chief Judge Joseph W. Hatchett, Eleventh Circuit
Judge Wm. Terrell Hodges, Middle District of Florida

Chief Judge Harry T. Edwards, District of Columbia Circuit
Chief Judge Norma H., Johnson District of Columbia

Chief Judge Haldane Robert Mayer, Federal Circuit
Chief Judge Gregory W. Carman, Court of International Trade
Conference Secretary:
Leonidas Ralph Mecham, Director
Administrative Office of U.S. Courts

Related Topics: Judicial Conference of the United States