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Roberts calls for pay raise for judges

The chief justice says federal jurists' lagging salaries pose a threat to the court system.

January 01, 2007|David G. Savage | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Taking advantage of what he called a "historically slow news day," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. released a report today calling for a raise for federal judges.

Roberts said in his second year-end report that the issue of lagging salaries "threatens to undermine" the court system.

"This is usually the point at which many will put down the annual report and return to the Rose Bowl," he conceded, but he beseeched readers to bear with him long enough to consider some revealing comparisons.

In 1969, federal judges earned substantially more than the dean and the senior professors at Harvard Law School, Roberts said. Today, federal judges are paid about half of what the deans and senior law professors at top schools are paid, he said.

During the same period, the average U.S. worker's wage, adjusted for inflation, has risen about 18%. By contrast, the pay for a federal judge has declined about 24% compared with inflation, creating a gap of 42%, he said.

Federal judges, who have lifetime appointments, "do not expect to receive salaries commensurate with what they could easily earn in the private sector," Roberts acknowledged. Indeed, judges in many cities know that lawyers fresh out of law school will earn more than they do, he noted.

But judges should not have to accept salaries that "fall further and further behind the cost of living.... The time is ripe for our nation's judges to receive a substantial salary increase," he said.

Roberts did not indicate how much he thought judges should be paid.

The chief justice, who heads the federal judicial system, faces an uphill fight in persuading Congress to boost the salaries of judges. That's because in the last 20 years, the pay rates for judges have been tied to those of members of Congress.

In 2006, senators, representatives and federal district judges were paid $165,200. That was $3,100 more than in 2005.

Judges on the U.S. appeals courts were paid $175,100. The eight associate justices of the Supreme Court earned $203,000, and the chief justice made $212,100.

The Democratic takeover of Congress may work to the advantage of the judiciary, however.

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and John F. Kerry of Massachusetts sponsored a bill last year that would have increased judges' salaries by 16%.

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