WaPo editorializes on why we should give judges a pay raise:
To many Americans, judges’ pay does not seem like an urgent issue. Judges are paid the same as members of Congress; the $154,700 that district judges take home and the $164,000 paid to appellate court judges this fiscal year are a lot more than most Americans will ever earn in a year. But they are also far less than many judges could earn. Congress has often failed to give judges a cost-of-living increase in recent years. In fact, in real terms, judicial pay has slipped dramatically in the past few decades. In a market in which good lawyers have enormous earning power, Congress’s failure to pay the judiciary appropriately threatens the ability to recruit high-caliber people to the bench and to retain them.
While I understand that sub-$200k salaries are paltry for senior attorneys, especially in big cities, it doesn’t necessarily follow that federal judges should get a pay hike. Salary economics is fairly straightforward: you pay what the market requires in order to get the caliber of employees desired. This is why college professors don’t make much money; the market is flooded with PhD’s vying for fewer jobs than there are applicants. WaPo provides no evidence that we are hurting for experienced lawyers eager to become federal judges. Absent such evidence, I’m forced to rely on the anecdotal observation that we seem to be nominating people deemed “highly qualified” by the ABA to judicial vacancies and that said nominees seem willing to endure months and months of Senate scrutiny and delay in order to get those jobs. Perhaps factors other than salary attract candidates to the bench?
There’s a lot of prestige attached to being a judge. Plus if you ever leave the judiciary and go back into practice, it’s a big boost.
Well, if there are really problems with attracting judges in major cities, they could always attach a cost of living allowance. But I think it’s a safe bet that the federal judges serving here in Oxford, Miss., make the most money of anyone in town except the football and basketball coaches at Ole Miss and a doctor or two at the hospital; I’m pretty sure they’re making more money than the local lawyers net.