Sunday, July 01, 2007

Turning Justice Roberts Into An Advocate For The Poor

Responding to Chief Justice Roberts' insistence that federal judges need a big pay increase, the Washington Post opines,
Still, Congress is right to reconsider how judicial pay works, since it's far from a flawless system. Judicial pay should be unlinked to congressional pay, for one. It should also be adjusted for cost of living annually (so real income doesn't fluctuate greatly from year to year) and regionally (so a judge in New York isn't earning the same pay as a judge in Little Rock). A real pay raise -- though not 50 percent -- is called for.
Hey - how about tying judicial salaries to increases in the minimum wage?


  1. How about we concentrate on the real world impact of the current pay, which according to the Post, “. . . doesn't appear to be hurting the quality of the federal judgeship applicant pool. Federal judges also are not engaging in a mass exodus to the private sector; bench departures have indeed increased over the last few decades, as supporters of the pay raise say, but so have total judgeships by a nearly proportional rate."

    Hmmm, doesn't sound like they need a pay raise based on any sort of negative impact the current pay rate is having, maybe it's justified based on the improvements in the applicant pool we could expect if we raised pay (insert 9th Cir. joke here), again, according to the Post, "Higher pay would be unlikely to greatly increase the number of qualified applicants from the private sector. A lawyer who doesn't want to exchange his earnings of $1 million per year in a corporate partnership for a prestigious and influential federal judgeship that pays $165,200 probably also won't leave for one that pays $246,800."

    How about we just leave well enough alone and figure that the poor dears will be able to "get by" on their current salaries. After all, even if they aren't getting rich, they still have the joy of public service in their hearts.


  2. You remind me of this post by Mike at Crime and Federalism.

    Why oh why does anyone want to be a judge? It's the serve the public, of course. A person who has never done a pro bono case, volunteered at a soup kitchen, or even helped an old lady cross the street, when talking about becoming a judge, will mention his burning desire to serve the public. Spare me.

    You also remind me of the old joke about law students... 'A' students become law professors, 'B' students become practitioners, and 'C' students become judges. You don't need to be "the best and brightest" to be a judge, or to serve well as a judge.

    Particularly at the state court level, there are many judge positions that I would personally find to be incredibly boring. During a court reorganization a few years ago, I witnessed the judges with the most senority structuring the court first and foremost so that they would never hear another domestic relations case, and to a lesser extent so that they would not hear criminal cases. Nominally the reorganization was about specialization, but in practice it was about "How do I get rid of the work I don't like, or which is really boring."

    Nor, for that matter, do you truly need to be the "best and brightest" to be a partner at a large law firm. I recall some candid admissions back during my law school interviewing days by partners who recognized that their own law school records fell far short of their firms' current hiring standards - yet there they were. But then, perhaps they truly were the best and brightest, as the correlation between academic performance and job performance is not as direct as many would like to have you believe. Requiring better student performance narrows the applicant pool, making it more efficient to select a final candidate, but... well, I can't draw a pretty ven diagram with text, but I think you know where I'm going.

    The Bush Administration doesn't seem to care a whit about qualification or competence when appointing ALJ's. If anything steps up the qualification expected of federal judges, it's Senate confirmation. A cynic might suggest that the call for higher wages isn't about getting more well-qualified candidates, but is about getting more nominally qualified candidates of a particular political stripe to consider judicial positions.

    The ultimate point, where you and I agree, is that the present candidate pool seems to be more than adequate as a source of qualified, competent judges. Roberts hasn't sewn the gold bars onto the arms of his robes yet, thank goodness, so he's not modeling himself after Rehnquist in every respect. But it would be nice if he would also move away from Rehnquist's neverending call for judicial pay raises.

  3. . . . maybe he sees the call for pay raises as a way of promoting loyalty from his subordinates?


  4. You mean, the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court? If so, the number of 5:4 decision suggest he might wish to try a different method.

  5. . . . those justices are to far gone to be won over by anything except an appeal to ego, now the district court judges . . .