Gavel Grab

ABA Targets Judicial Pay Raise Issue

The American Bar Association is asking the Supreme Court to decide whether lack of cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for federal judges violates the Constitution.

At issue is a congressional guarantee of undiminished pay for judges and a periodic failure by Congress to fund the COLAs, according to an ABA Journal article. The ABA made its request in an amicus brief in a case, Beer v. United States, brought by a group of current and former judges.

“[J]udicial pay … is now so low as to seriously compromise the independence that life tenure was intended to ensure and … is insufficient to attract and retain well-qualified jurists from diverse economic and societal backgrounds,” the ABA said in a press release.

It said salaries for American workers have risen 19.5 percent since 1969, adjusted for inflation, and salaries for U.S. district judges have declined by 27 percent.

As pay has declined, the judges’ workload has increased. “The effects of these trends are undisputed: highly qualified and experienced jurists are leaving the bench in unprecedented numbers, often to assume more lucrative posts in the private sector,” the ABA’s amicus brief says, according to a Forbes blog post. The amicus brief did not reflect opinions of judges who belong to the ABA.

The ABA is a partner of Justice at Stake.

Concern about the adequacy of federal judicial salaries made news last year, especially when a California judge quit over what he called inadequate pay, and a chief district judge in California lamented a “crisis of retention” on the federal bench; you can read these stories in Gavel Grab.

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