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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Passing Judgment on Judicial Salaries

Those activist judges are getting all activisty again. This time they are activizing about…their own salaries. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts released an 8 page annual report that focused on the sole topic of pay raises for the federal judiciary. He makes some good arguments about inflation and keeping up with such and such, but he lost me when I found out that federal judges make $165,200 (to start). Roberts declared that the compensation situation “has now reached the level of a constitutional crisis that threatens to undermine the strength and independence of the federal judiciary…Our judiciary will not properly serve its constitutional role if it is restricted to (1) persons so wealthy that they can afford to be indifferent to the level of judicial compensation, or (2) people for whom the judicial salary represents a pay increase.” Wow. Sounds scary.

I agree with Roberts that padding the bench with people who are so rich that even the paltry $165,200 salary won't deter them from public service, is a bad idea. I also think it is a bad idea to make the salary of a federal judge so inflated that you end up filling the robes with people who “do it for the money”.

I’m not saying that judges don’t deserve to get paid. They do. They work hard. They keep criminals off of the streets and sometimes they protect our civil liberties, but I can’t even believe we are having this discussion about a job that pays $80 an hour (to start) when we haven’t raised the federal minimum wage in 10 years. I don’t know though. Maybe I missed the memo and there is some huge shortage of federal judges that I didn’t know about. Maybe they can’t give these jobs away and soon we’ll be living in an extended prison colony because there is nobody around to make sure the criminals get locked up. I might have zero information about this and am only bitter because federal judges make about 4 times what I do and they get to sit in a chair and wear fat robes all day. So all you judges out there, go ahead and send me comments on how I don’t know what I’m talking about and to those comments I will say “Jury duty pays $40 a day and I’m pretty sure they do the hard part.”


Blogger (A Little) Gris Gris said...

I view myself as something of an expert in this arena. If you don't know why, then you don't need to. But, here are my thoughts...

I know of many a judge who has left the bench and gone back to the private sector for financial reasons. Most often, I hear the high cost of sending their kids to college as the reason. I say - go back! We don't want you on the bench.

Being a judge is a calling. You must have the desire to work for the common good. It is like most other public sector service: often thankless and surely lower paying. If you are financially driven, then you're not actually working for the people. Contrary to popular belief, $130K-$200K is indeed a living wage.

I could say more, but I would really only be a vent. I'm not willing to make a relatively irrelevant divergence from my otherwise valid and important points.

Your Biggest Fan

7:18 PM

Blogger Jenny said...

I'm with you, Gris. Here's my thought: I am currently a stay-at-home mom, giving up my career as a teacher primarily to raise my daughter, but also because by the time you take out taxes, the money I was making would mostly go to child care expenses if I were to return to work. I am very fortunate to have some supplementary income, as well as a husband who earns a decent enough living to not only support our family, but also to allow us to save money for things like future college expenses for our daughter, retirement, etc. And we DON'T bring in what the federal judges make. My point is, with good planning and that kind of salary, you can pretty much save for any contingency. In other words, these guys have very little to complain about. Judges rise to the ranks through many avenues, with many of them spending years in private firms, where many of them were making pretty remarkable 6-figure salaries prior to becoming judges. The fact that they are paid so highly for their education is not what upsets me - they work/ed hard in school and at work and earn/ed their salaries. However, when the people who have helped them to become who they are today - teachers - cannot afford to live in the counties in which they teach (especially when you are talking about where I live and work - Montgomery County, MD), it kind of strikes a nerve to hear them bitching and moaning about not being able to live on a paltry $165,000 or more per year. Again, Gris, I think you said it - becoming a judge is a choice, much like my becoming a teacher was something I chose to do. I knew going into it that I wouldn't ever make a million bucks, but I did it anyway because I thought I could bring about a change in our world. Maybe Justice Roberts needs to reframe his thinking...

10:27 AM


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