Are You Ready for the Bench: The Implications of Low Judicial Salaries
Many attorneys consider the career option of becoming a federal judge, or at least spend some time thinking about it. The prestige, the power, the trappings of authority and social respect associated with a position in the judiciary is obvious, however, more often than not, it's a secure and certain pay package at the end of the month that seems most attractive about the job of a federal judge.
Is the job of a federal judge worth your time?
Is the salary worth it? Since 1992, while the pay of most federal employees have increased by 91 percent, judicial pay has increased only by 39 percent – which is totally contrary to market economic realities and the responsibilities of a judge. Most lawyers are unaware that successive governments have repeatedly ignored the task of bringing judicial salaries at par with the efforts, skill, knowledge and risks involved in the job of a federal judge.
Low judicial pay ensures breakdown of the judiciary and denial of justice to the people
The problem created by the government by repeatedly ignoring review of judicial pay scales is so acute that Chief Justice Roberts had to mourn about the current job of a federal judge: “Inadequate compensation directly threatens the viability of life tenure, and if tenure in office is made uncertain, the strength and independence judges need to uphold the rule of law-even when it is unpopular to do so-will be seriously eroded."
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On one hand low judicial salaries ensure the weakening of the merit base of the bench, and on the other hand salaries as low as or lower than associate salaries in big law firms subtly encourage judges to look for other means of income in order to survive. Speaking on the implications of the absolutely poor pay for judges ensured by the government, Chief Justice Roberts said, “If judicial appointment ceases to be the capstone of a distinguished career and instead becomes a stepping stone to a lucrative position in private practice, the Framers' goal of a truly independent judiciary will be placed in serious jeopardy.”
The facts in brief about the realities of judicial pay
Many federal employees now earn substantially more than federal judges
Average salaries of district judges is $174,000 while may federal employees earn more than $200,000
Annual cost of living adjustment, (COLA) mechanism for judicial pay scale review under the Ethics Reform Act has been intentionally ignored by successive governments and the COLAs of 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2007, and 2010 have been repeatedly denied by governments.
Since 1990, at least 123 Article III judges have either retired or voluntarily resigned from their positions
Most retired judges and those who resigned have remarked that financial considerations were a big factor in their decisions to leave the bench
Many judges who left the bench and later joined law firms or became corporate counsels are earning an average of $700,000 in salary and bonuses plus stock options where available
Law clerks who join big law firms as first year associates earn more than federal judges, even if signing bonuses and other payments are not taken into count
Any district court judge on the bench since 1993 has failed to receive a total of $283,100 a pay which has been denied by the government, though it was statutorily authorized
It's not a matter of Republicans or Democrats, but of successive groups of politicians who control the government of the country, that their actions are ensuring a situation where the judiciary ultimately breaks down due to lack of merit and integrity.