Washington Whispers Daily

Despite a guaranteed job for life, free parking, and cool uniforms, federal judges are still whining about making less than, say, your average Michael Jackson superlawyer. The Supreme Court’s chief justice, William Rehnquist, thought he had a deal late last year when Senate leaders and the White House warmed to a plan to “delink” judicial pay from the minimal annual congressional pay raise and get guaranteed yearly increases on top of their base $142,300-$198,600 salaries. He even thought he’d locked down an immediate hike of an average $25,000. But that was before his pay-plea team met with House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Just before Thanksgiving, we learn, four Supreme Court judges, including Sandra Day O’Connor and Antonin Scalia, had a private sit-down with Hastert to boohoo that lawyers want more money to become judges. His response? “It’s not going to happen,” says a leadership aide. In fact, when Hastert told fellow GOP-ers of the begging session, several grumbled that judges shouldn’t get paid better than lawmakers until they start working as hard.

Considering that almost anyone qualified for appointment to the federal bench could make a lot more money on the outside, it’s certainly defensible to pay them more than congressmen. On the other hand, pay is generally set based on the prevailing market. Since we don’t seem to have a dearth of qualified applicants for the job at present salaries, I’m not why we’d raise the pay.

Update (1711): I said essentially the same thing last June, but since the argument doesn’t seem to be going away, it bears repeating.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. > almost anyone qualified for appointment to the
    > federal bench could make a lot more money on
    > the outside

    That’s not why you become a judge, and if you were in it for the money, you would be a ambulance chaser.

    I am sure Judge Bork is making more doing consulting than if he wasn’t, well, Borked, for the SCOTUS nomination, but if you ask him, I think he would rather have gotten the lower paying job.