Federal Circuit, Federal Judges, Supreme Court

Mandatory Budget Cuts? Not For Federal Judges!

Sequestration has government lawyers going on mandatory furloughs and facing ethical dilemmas. But the federal bench has cause to bust out the bubbly.

On Monday, the Supreme Court took a pass on an appeal from the Federal Circuit that ordered the government to pay cost-of-living adjustments to six federal judges that the feds routinely stiffed over the last 20 years or so.

Sure, right now this only applies to the six judges who sued, but it’s only a matter of time before a huge swath of the federal judiciary takes the government to court.

How big of a pay day are we looking at?

Well, right now, district judges are pulling down $174,000, and circuit court judges are making $184,500. With all the cost-of-living adjustments applied, they are poised to earn approximately $247,000 and $262,000 respectively, while everyone else in federal employ is going to get laid off. Thanks for taking one for the team, judges!

I’m actually sympathetic to the judges who brought the suit. In the case, United States v. Beer, which sounds like a description of Prohibition, the federal government stripped judges of most avenues of supplemental income in the 80s. To compensate (pun intended), Congress promised a string of orderly cost-of-living raises to keep judicial salaries increasing on pace with inflation.

Except the government dissed the judges in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2007, and 2010. This prompted the judges to invoke ye olde Constitution and point out that judicial compensation “shall not be diminished during their continuance in office,” arguing that missing promised cost of living adjustments constituted a pay cut.

The Federal Circuit, a body comprised of “federal judges,” unsurprisingly decided this was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court tacitly agreed.

Missing out on scheduled raises sucked for those judges. But maybe now is not the right time to take a huge raise. Just optically, you know?

Nor is it necessarily deserved for the younger federal judges. The Washington Post article notes:

Chief Justice John Roberts and his predecessor, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, have advocated for higher judicial salaries for years, with the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts saying that while inflation has increased by 36 percent since 1992, judicial pay has increased only 39 percent over the same time.

Um… then judges appointed in 1992 have actually been exceeding the pace of the inflation over the last 21 years. This is why people hate the government: when skipping six scheduled “cost of living” adjustments still puts an employee ahead of the COST OF LIVING, the government schedule is wrong.

In the meantime, congratulations to the federal bench. Now you can finally afford that solid gold house and rocket car.

Supreme Court Won’t Stop Promised Raises From Going to Some Federal Judges [Washington Post]
United States v. Beer [Bloomberg Law]

Earlier: Sequestration Creates Ethical Hurdles, Trial Suspensions

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