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U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Michael Luttig Resigns:

Luttig, a leading conservative judge who had often been talked about as a possible Supreme Court nominee, has just resigned. He's going to become General Counsel of Boeing.

GMUSL 2L (mail):
Is it all about the Benjamins, baby?
5.10.2006 1:31pm
Hans Bader (mail):
The Fourth Circuit is fairly evenly split ideologically on some issues (Bush made some liberal appointments to appease the left, to no avail), and now there will be a heck of a lot more conservative panel decisions that will end up being reheard en banc.

Couldn't he have waited until Boyle or someone else got confirmed to fill vacancies on the Fourth Circuit?

On the other hand, it will be even harder to fill vacancies after the November election, when the Senate may change hands.
5.10.2006 1:33pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
I was musing as to whether (1) his scathing opinion in the Padilla case jinxed his SCOTUS chances and encouraged him to quit the judiciary, or (2) he'd already decided to leave the bench when he wrote said op, and figured he had nothing to lose by cutting loose.

Assuming of course that he doesn't just like airplanes.
5.10.2006 1:40pm
iamcool388:
He spent almost all his life in public service and trying to be the best at what he was. With two white males appointed to the Supreme Court, he knows the bus has left the station for him. Sure he is not entitled to the SCOTUS (no one is) but once ur dream is gone, why shouldnt you go for the benjamins?

I for one am happy for him and wish him luck. And of course, once we get a President with some cojones, he's still a prime pick for SCOTUS.
5.10.2006 1:41pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
(Oh, and of course the inevitable discussion: Are Judicial Salaries Too Low?)
5.10.2006 1:41pm
Been There, Done That:
The money spent on the federal judiciary is a pittance, especially when compared to the value we get from the federal courts relative to the value we get from other governmental departments.

At some point, however, it is not realistic to expect the best people to take a vow of poverty -- indeed, lifetime poverty -- to serve as judges. If salaries are not raised so as to be at least competitive with the average mid-level big firm associate, in the end we will see the judiciary become the province of the independently super-wealthy (more so than it is already), and ideological extremists who have a higher tolerance for financial sacrifice.
5.10.2006 1:44pm
anonymous coward:
Judicial salaries are probably not too low to attract excellent federal judges. Otherwise Luttig's decision wouldn't be so surprising.
5.10.2006 1:44pm
Thrower:
Those poor '06 clerks! Maybe O'Scannlain still has some openings. Sorry Jen Mascot et al.
5.10.2006 1:44pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
"it is not realistic to expect the best people to take a vow of poverty -- indeed, lifetime poverty -- to serve as judges."

Federal judge salaries put them well within the top 5% of incomes nationwide. They don't make General Counsel at Boeing money, but calling it a vow of poverty is the sort of thing that brings on a fit of giggles in anyone who knows what they're talking about. Especially when you consider that federal judges can live wherever they want in their circuit, so they always have the option of going for a low cost of living.
5.10.2006 1:50pm
Been There, Done That:
Mr. Mandias,

Law school easily costs >$30,000 a year, which is on top of college, during which time the student is not earning much if any income.

Many if not most lawyers struggle to pay down their debt and build up savings/assets unless they sacrifice their souls to slave away at some big firm sweatshop that demands 90 hour weeks. And that's just to keep pace.

So yes, lawyers expect to make more than an average blue collar worker. However, when you factor in the opportunity cost of not really working for 7 years and borrowing heavily, it is actually easier to become wealthier as an HVAC installer or plumber than as an attorney.
5.10.2006 1:54pm
Silicon Valley Jim (mail):
My understanding is that, while the salaries for federal judges are about what a beginning associate makes at a big law firm, the benefits are much better, particularly retirement, although many federal judges work long past the age at which they are eligible for retirement benefits.
5.10.2006 2:04pm
Some Lurker:
"it is actually easier to become wealthier as an HVAC installer or plumber than as an attorney."

This is a claim that is often repeated, and on some level I can see its appeal. On the other hand, however, I've met many more wealthy attorneys than wealthy plumbers...
5.10.2006 2:05pm
therut:
Oh good grief. Poor little lawyers. Just to put my whine into the discussion. At least you do not have to worry about some very dishonest, ignorant lawyers suing you like physicians do. And guess what we still pay our debt and train for many more years. Get real not all law schools cost 30,000 a year. Not all Medical Schools cost that much either. Get a Student loan for goddness sakes. I paid off all my student loans within 2 years. And I was making less than 100,000 a year. If you spent that much money on Law School it was your choice to go to that school.. Playing the smallest violin right now.
5.10.2006 2:10pm
Pocket (mail):
His resignation letter (linked to from the Boeing announcment) makes specific reference to the fact that he needs the jump in income due to his children approaching college age. Additionally, I can't help but feel that his mentioning of working on cases related to the War on Terror is a subtle reminder of his Padilla opinion.
5.10.2006 2:10pm
blackdoggerel (mail):
"Federal judge salaries put them well within the top 5% of incomes nationwide."

The point is not that on an absolute scale, federal judges make a very comfortable salary. The point is that within the ranks of highly intelligent, highly motivated lawyers, there is a disincentive for the people we should most have in the important position of federal judge to accept that position (or stay in it once confirmed) when the other (private industry) options available to them are so much more lucrative -- year after year after year.

The result is that the best minds may not end up in the position that most needs them, and such positions are then occupied by those whose intellectual caliber and legal skills do not command the top-tier private positions that would otherwise have the same luring effect.
5.10.2006 2:16pm
Blindgambit:
Two things
(1) Be sad to see Luttig go- he approaches issues from a different intellectual tact than Judge Wilkinson, the other sort of leading conservative thinker on the circuit. Agree or disagree with Luttig, he was always intellectually rigorous and challenging.
(2) Judicial salaries- they are low given where the people Presidents are trying to recruit are coming from. Remember, a federal judgeship doesn't come after law school; it comes 20-25 years down the line to people who are very distinguished in either private practice or the government. For those private practice people, they are going from high six figures, maybe even seven figures, to the mid 100s. Now, while mid 100s is still high, if you've been living a lifestyle of a partner raking in $750,000 a year, that's a harsh cut.
5.10.2006 2:32pm
frankcross (mail):
Sure it's low, relatively, but the "school my children" excuse is only marginally better than Sprewell's "feed my children." Plenty of folks send their kids to college while making less.

Why not just say: I want more money. Or: I'm tired of being a judge.
5.10.2006 2:38pm
Matthew Dundon (mail):
I think there might a simpler answer: 15 years is a long time to spend doing the exact same job, even (perhaps especially) if you've got the talent that Judge Luttig has. Add to that the prohibitive unlikelihood of promotion given Roberts and Alito's recent elevations, and why wouldn't he look for new, stimulating opportunities, regardless of the money?

That Luttig is being driven more by ambition than by avarice seems plain in his choice of next job. Whatever deal Boeing is offering him is probably light by half a million or more from where the law firm bidding war on him would have topped out. Morever, his day to day work is going to be a lot less glamorous and a lot more grotty, with less job security to boot, than as the newly-annointed head of appellate and constitutional litigation at [insert name of firm here].
5.10.2006 2:58pm
Ace (mail):
Every law student is now asking this questtion, who is the new leading conservative "feeder judge?"
5.10.2006 3:00pm
SLS 1L:
At some point, however, it is not realistic to expect the best people to take a vow of poverty -- indeed, lifetime poverty -- to serve as judges
Poverty is working two jobs so you can live in a crappy apartment in a neighborhood with a high crime rate, drug dealers, and physically unsafe public schools. Poverty is not having any savings, living paycheck-to-paycheck. Poverty is using emergency rooms for primary care.

The idea that federal judges are being asked to live in poverty because they have to be merely upper-middle-class rather than objectively rich is crazy and seriously offensive. Whether higher salaries would attract better judges is, of course, another question.
5.10.2006 3:01pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Every law student is now asking this questtion, who is the new leading conservative "feeder judge?"

Hopefully, few of them are saying "Edith Jones."

Speaking of the 5th Circuit, check out this op that How Appealing linked to: a guy's driving with a plastic frame around his license plate that partially obscures the word "Texas," and that turns out to violate a Texas statute and thus provide probable cause for a stop.

I can hear the plastic frames snapping off all over Texas ....
5.10.2006 3:09pm
Quarterican (mail):
I really don't have a reason to care about this situation, but I get weirded out when strangers start getting critical of someone else's life choice. So:

Plenty of folks send their kids to college while making less.

Let's assume that he's making, as someone suggested earlier, mid 100K per year. He spent some of his life, apparently, working at a major law firm but judging from that article he's spent a great deal of his career in working situations where he wouldn't be making - by the standards of a brilliant legal mind - a great deal of money. So he's probably got some savings, but not a great deal. Still: making $100K+ a year, no college will give him financial aid. Let's assume that his children are going to go to colleges in the top tier or two: tuition plus living expenses, travel, books, etc. these days gets you into the $40K or $50K per year range, and very few schools at that level provide merit-based scholarships. Stringing together enough third-party scholarships to cover a significant % of the cost can be exceedingly difficult, especially if you're not eligible for the One-Eyed Armenian Girls Who Play the Oboe scholarships. So, two kids, four years each - he's looking at a total expenditure of somewhere in the neighborhood of, say, $360K over the next, what, six years? Sure, he could go into debt, but he's not exactly a spring chicken anymore. He could tell his kids to go into debt, but maybe he thinks: "I have the opportunity to make sure my kids don't start their adult lives a few hundred thousand dollars in the hole. I've worked my whole life to give them the best opportunities I can, to give them every possible advantage. If it's possible for me to pay for them to get the best possible education, that's what I've gotta do." Whatever other reasons he might have for taking this job, isn't that a sufficient one? Who can blame him?
5.10.2006 3:10pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Didn't see any specific salary quoted in the thread, so here are some snippets from the WaPo's article:
Federal appeals court judges earn $171,800 per year and generally must avoid any lucrative outside activity. Vice presidents and general counsels for huge corporations may earn anywhere from a quarter million dollars to several million, including various non-salary forms of compensation. * * *

His public thrashing of the Justice Department was known to have been deeply upsetting to political appointees in the department. * * *

In a telephone interview today, Luttig said his criticism of the administration "had nothing whatsoever to do with this decision, which is more far-reaching than any particular case."

"I've been on the bench 15 years," he said. "No one can or should plan their life with regard to a potential Supreme Court appointment."
Can't argue with that, really.
5.10.2006 3:18pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Poverty is working two jobs so you can live in a crappy apartment in a neighborhood with a high crime rate, drug dealers, and physically unsafe public schools. Poverty is not having any savings, living paycheck-to-paycheck. Poverty is using emergency rooms for primary care.

The idea that federal judges are being asked to live in poverty because they have to be merely upper-middle-class rather than objectively rich is crazy and seriously offensive. Whether higher salaries would attract better judges is, of course, another question.
I was going to say this, but you have said it as well as I could. I do agree that there is some question about whether federal judges are paid well enough to attract the best (as opposed to the most ideologically driven) lawyers. But let's not kid ourselves that judges live in poverty.
5.10.2006 3:28pm
Alan Meese (mail):
Couldn't this actually brighten Judge Luttig's Supreme Court prospects? He will no longer be "only" an excellent, experienced judge, but also the top lawyer at one of the nation's great private companies.
5.10.2006 3:31pm
Alan Meese (mail):
Couldn't this actually brighten Judge Luttig's Supreme Court prospects? He will no longer be "only" an excellent, experienced judge, but also the top lawyer at one of the nation's great private companies.
5.10.2006 3:31pm
Been There, Done That:
Thank you, Quarterican.

Yes, some people send their kids to college with less $.

They also get financial aid or saddle their kids with loans, or send their kids to less expensive schools that, while they may provide a fine education, don't open the doors (regardless of educational quality) that some more $$$ schools would.

It is impossible to be very comfortable or financially secure if one leaves 7 years of school, not having worked much, with significant debt and no assets, never making much more than mid-$100s, if one also plans to buy a hou$e and send a couple of kids to college.

If all the studying and hard work for being at the top of this profession pays about the same as a bartender, executive secretary, HVAC installer, etc., what's the point? I'm not knocking those other professions or decrying their salaries. They're worth what they make in a market economy. But they're much easier to get into than the federal appellate bench.
5.10.2006 3:36pm
DC Lawyer (mail):
The idea that $175,000 a year plus potential income from a spouse is akin to living in poverty is so absurd as to barely warrant a response.

MANY of us have shunned cushy firm jobs for careers in public interest law firms, non-profit organizations, the government and so forth, and we make a hell of a lot less than $175,000. Spare me the crocodile tears.
5.10.2006 3:37pm
Anonymous Law Student (mail):
no discussion of who will replace him ... Olson?
5.10.2006 3:45pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Surely a federal judge's salary isn't poverty. Yet equally surely there's nothing dishonorable in wanting to make a lot of money, especially once has already put in a career's worth of public service. "It's all about the Benjamins" seems like an unnecessarily harsh way to describe people's natural desire to make more money -- if that's what was driving Luttig -- especially given his past willingness to sacrifice at least some money for the sake of public service.
5.10.2006 3:48pm
JosephSlater (mail):
I don't begrudge Luttig leaving if money was a major factor. And I know how much education can cost. But some people responding should look at median incomes nationally, even in the professions.
5.10.2006 3:50pm
Baldie:
So, headhunters call federal judges. Who knew?
5.10.2006 3:51pm
Witness (mail):
I agree with Matthew Dundon. This seems like an odd choice for Luttig. Who knows what kind of financial/benefits package that they're offering him, but regardless, the job description of a GC doesn't seem to match up with what his interests and areas of expertise seem to be. Then again, who knows what those really are, since for the most part he's been confined to the cases passing through his court. Maybe he's really always wanted to be an in-house lawyer...
5.10.2006 3:55pm
hey (mail):
Anything less than $500k is pretty paltry to someone who is intelligent, is in the mainstream of society (doesn't hate capitalism and its trappings), has no other means of support, and has children.

Luttig could failry easily be a senior level partner at a top tier firm, so his market value is on the order of $1.5M-$3M. In light of this, with two kids, he is in relative poverty. Prof. Bainbridge does ok for himself despite UCLA thanks to not having kids.

The constant harping from the antimaterialist left on what is or isn't poverty for a 99.9th percentile lawyer is hilarious but unillimuniating.

Outside of hudges, police, and the military, no federal employee of the executive branch should make more than a notional salary. Legislators should get $1 andhave no office or employee budget. This makes government a very unattractive job, discourages growth in government, and requires legislators to have real lives or vast personal means. Less corruption, less government, a two-fer for the republic!
5.10.2006 4:06pm
SLS 1L:
Anything less than $500k is pretty paltry to someone who is intelligent, is in the mainstream of society (doesn't hate capitalism and its trappings), has no other means of support, and has children.
Anyone who's intelligent can get a job that pays $500k? My friends who are going to firms must not be very smart.
5.10.2006 4:19pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Anything less than $500k is pretty paltry to someone who is intelligent, is in the mainstream of society (doesn't hate capitalism and its trappings), has no other means of support, and has children.
I kept looking for the smiley face. You know, there's a lot of us who are intelligent, in the mainstream of society, have children (that we send to college), and aren't heirs to great fortunes, who make substantially less than $500k. And guess what? We still manage to live pretty darn well--certainly well enough that we don't call it "paltry." I don't begrudge anyone who makes a good salary. I make a good salary, and a fair amount of money from side businesses and book royalties. But I am under no illusion that a person making $171,000 a year is suffering. If you think that such a salary is "paltry," I think you have some serious values problems.

Realistically, all of a person's material needs and nearly all sensible wants can be met on $100,000 a year. (College tuition for the kids at Harvard, Yale, or Stanford, might be the one great exception, and it is arguable that you are getting enough for that money to justify the indoctrination AND the costs.) The only great advantage to making a lot more than that is if you put $50,000 a year into savings, so that you can retire young enough to do something useful or interesting with the second half of your life. That you think of $500,000 a year as "paltry" suggests that you might have some trouble putting that much into savings, even on a $500,000 a year salary.

The constant harping from the antimaterialist left on what is or isn't poverty for a 99.9th percentile lawyer is hilarious but unillimuniating.
Thank you, it's been a unique experience to see myself characterized as "antimaterialist left." Here's the views from the new house I just had built.

Now, you are correct that lawyers get paid very well, and a judge's salary is indeed low for a top notch lawyer. But to call that "poverty" suggests that you suffer from the antimaterialist left's warped notion that poverty is only a relative term.
5.10.2006 4:31pm
SLS 1L:
Professor Volokh:
surely there's nothing dishonorable in wanting to make a lot of money
I don't think that's nearly so sure. Consider what the Bible has to say about it:
Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
Luke 12:15 (NIV). Or:
Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve.
1 Peter 5:2 (NIV, emphasis added). Personally, I don't consider I don't consider the Bible a source of moral authority, and the meaning of these kinds of statements can be disputed, but our culture's moral tradition doesn't consider avarice morally unproblematic, and neither do I.

It's not "surely" true, but a matter open to legitimate dispute.
5.10.2006 4:41pm
RM (mail):
I'm puzzled by the negative reaction to Luttig's decision in the comments above and elsewhere, even to the substance of the switch. Boeing is a major american corporation. Being GC of it is a big deal, even on its own. After all, Boeing faces interesting legal questions spanning almost every possible subject. Plus, as GC, he he's likely to have a serious strategic role at the highest level. There's no reason to believe, from my end, that the new job is somehow objectively inferior to his old one. On top of it, the man's been paid a tiny fraction of his market value, while serving the public, for years. Seems like a completely reasonable and positive choice to me.
5.10.2006 4:43pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
SLS 1L's sudden use of the Bible as a source of moral codes is amusing, but suggests that searching for specific items isn't the most effective strategy for understanding. Greed is certainly contrary to Christianity, but making a lot of money isn't necessarily greedy. Greed is often defined as "Excessive desire to acquire or possess more (especially more material wealth) than one needs or deserves." What constitutes more than "one needs or deserves"? I think most rational people would consider that a billion dollars is far more than one needs. You can't spend the interest on the interest on a billion dollars fast enough to keep it from growing completely out of control. As Jack London wrote, once he became wealthy, "How many steak dinners can you eat?" It gets a bit more tricky when you consider that a $500,000 salary will turn out to be about $260,000 after taxes. This is about $21,000 a month net. Unless you are doing something completely and utterly absurd, you can't spend that kind of money sensibly for any length of time. At $171,000 a year, you can live pretty comfortably, unless you are partial to buying a new Porsche every year, and then driving it into the ground, or you need a 5000 square foot house on its own private lake. (Or, you live in New York City, or the San Francisco Bay Area.)
5.10.2006 4:52pm
JosephSlater (mail):
SLS IL's use of Bible quotes, "sudden" or not, was exactly on point. And the Biblical language there seems more specific to me than the cherry-picked portions of Leviticus used to argue against gay and lesbian rights rights.
5.10.2006 5:06pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Um, that should be just one "rights" at the end there.
5.10.2006 5:06pm
Witness (mail):
If you're making $500K and only taking home $260K after taxes, you need to get a better tax lawyer/accountant.
5.10.2006 5:13pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

SLS IL's use of Bible quotes, "sudden" or not, was exactly on point. And the Biblical language there seems more specific to me than the cherry-picked portions of Leviticus used to argue against gay and lesbian rights rights.
Romans chapter 1 is at least as much on target as SLS 1L's quotes about greed. But you know what? Christians don't cherry-pick what they want out of the Bible; there's agreement that greed is a bad thing, and while there might be some argument about where the line is crossed from reasonable self-interest into greed, there's no argument that conspicuous consumption is immoral, and that government has a legitimate function in dealing with suffering caused by material want. (Note: there are libertarians out there who argue that greed is good, and that government has no obligation to care for the deserving poor. I reject this type of materialism is everything philosophy, as every Christian must.)

The big argument is about what constitutes the most appropriate way to deal with material want, and whether all forms of poverty equally deserve individual or governmental assistance. My experience is that most poverty is self-induced, usually because alcohol or other intoxicants take higher priority than anything else. Pouring more money into someone's pockets in that situation is not simply unproductive; it encourages more of the same destructive behavior.

When liberals start quoting from the Bible to justify their position about economic redistribution, it is touching to see them suddenly concerned about Christian values--but as your comments make clear, you are interested in picking and choosing what parts of the Bible get written into law.
5.10.2006 5:16pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

If you're making $500K and only taking home $260K after taxes, you need to get a better tax lawyer/accountant.
That's a worst case scenario--assuming that you don't have a mortgage interest deduction.
5.10.2006 5:17pm
SLS 1L:
Clayton - I'm amused to be on the same side as you for once. To be clear, I wasn't attempting to advance a redistributionist message through my cherry-picked Bible quotes. What I find objectionable is Professor Volokh's assumption that wanting to make lots of money is "surely" unproblematic. People disagree with that proposition for reasons both religious and secular, and I don't think we should be so cavalierly dismissed.
5.10.2006 5:29pm
TC (mail):

"At some point, however, it is not realistic to expect the best people to take a vow of poverty -- indeed, lifetime poverty -- to serve as judges"
Poverty is working two jobs so you can live in a crappy apartment in a neighborhood with a high crime rate, drug dealers, and physically unsafe public schools. Poverty is not having any savings, living paycheck-to-paycheck. Poverty is using emergency rooms for primary care.

The idea that federal judges are being asked to live in poverty because they have to be merely upper-middle-class rather than objectively rich is crazy and seriously offensive. Whether higher salaries would attract better judges is, of course, another question.

Some people have no appreciation of a little rhetorical flair.
5.10.2006 5:35pm
Houston Lawyer:
In 2005, Federal Appeals Justices earned $171,800. This won't get you more than a third year associate based upon the last big law salary increase. I pulled up the proxy for Boeing and looked at management compensation. I'd say he will increase his income by a factor of 5 and possibly 10.

It's just asinine to criticize the man for taking a better paying job. He has not, to my knowledge, taken a vow of poverty.
5.10.2006 5:37pm
S. Keith (mail):
I have never understood the argument that federal judges are undercompensated. Sure, they are paid less than equally talented lawyers in the private sector in monetary terms, but they are handsomely compensated in other ways, mostly in PRESTIGE as well as lifestyle. Got an Article III commission and want to publish a book? Want to teach at a university? You won't have much problem finding a publisher or adjunct faculty appointment. You can also jump to the very top of the private sector at any time you choose: maybe you're not making a million dollars a year, but you own an option to do so anytime you choose. That option and peace-of-mind is surely worth something. All this comes on top of being the boss of your own small office and being able to have control unparalleled in the private sector of your working conditions and environment. I wouldn't hesitate to take a pay cut for this and clearly there are enough qualified lawyers out there who feel similarly. Hey, some top lawyers even work for peanuts in government jobs without the prestige of a judicial appointment!
5.10.2006 5:44pm
Brett Bellmore (mail):
In that range, we can surely find a different vow to assert that he hasn't taken. I'm with the others; $171,800 isn't even in the same NEIGHBORHOOD as "poverty", and anyone who thinks otherwise has a seriously warped perspective.

And pointing that out is in no sense a claim that he wasn't entitled to go for the really big bucks, instead of settling for the moderately big bucks.

I suspect that he made a rational judgement that there was no point in waiting around any longer for a promotion that he wasn't going to get. And with a job offer like that, a seat on the Supreme court is about the only thing that would have made saying no worthwhile.
5.10.2006 5:59pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Clayton:

I'll let liberal Christians speak for themselves.

Although this is getting too far afield from the original topic, I was intrigued by your claim, "My experience is that most poverty is self-induced, usually because alcohol or other intoxicants take higher priority than anything else." It's not surprising that you blame the poor for their poverty, but I wonder if you think Europeans are more virtuous than Americans. After all, a number of European countries have lower rates of poverty than the U.S. does.
5.10.2006 6:00pm
Houston Lawyer:
In this country if you are in poverty and you are an able bodied adult, it is highly likely your own fault. I'm sure you can conjure up some hypothetical person who had a grave injustice done to him that is to blame for his poverty, but that won't change anything. Many people I know have dirt poor relatives who received all the advantages that they did growing up. In addition, many people born into poor households manage to achieve prosperity. If someone drops out of school, abuses drugs, or has a child too young or out of wedlock, it is their own fault.
5.10.2006 6:15pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Although this is getting too far afield from the original topic, I was intrigued by your claim, "My experience is that most poverty is self-induced, usually because alcohol or other intoxicants take higher priority than anything else." It's not surprising that you blame the poor for their poverty, but I wonder if you think Europeans are more virtuous than Americans. After all, a number of European countries have lower rates of poverty than the U.S. does.
Did you see that word "most" before "poverty"? It's called an adjective, and it means that it modifies the word following it. Yes, there are adults who are poor through no action of their own--but I confess that I have met very few of them. Not everyone can be prosperous or affluent, but if you aren't disabled, mentally deficient, or mentally ill (all combined, a few percent of the population), there's no shortage of jobs that pay enough to cover the necessities of life. My experience is has been that most adults who are truly in want suffer from one of the following problems:

1. They are still in college, working towards a degree.

2. They use intoxicants to excess, and it prevents them from getting or holding even crummy jobs.

3. They have severe self-control problems about spending. A co-worker who probably makes $70,000 to $80,000 salary--with no dependents, in a place where you can still buy real houses for $130,000--tells me that he hopes that he will get laid off so he'll have an excuse to go bankrupt on his tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt. But at least he admits that the problem is that he lacks self-control, and buys stuff he doesn't need or want.

European governments spend a lot of money making sure that no one is impoverished, with predictable effects on productivity and unemployment. They have done a good job of masking the core problems, without question, by creating a very generous welfare state.

And yes, there is a real possiblity, since so many Americans are the descendants of people who left Europe as criminal exports, that Americans may have, on average, a lower moral level than Europeans. (I suspect that the addiction problem that underlies a lot of petty crime is genetic.) Quite a number of Britons left for America after being given the option of the noose or immigration. France emptied out its women's prisons to get its soldiers to stop shacking up with Indians in Louisiana. Africa exported more than a few criminals as slaves to the New World.
5.10.2006 6:18pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
In this country if you are in poverty and you are an able bodied adult, it is highly likely your own fault.

"Your own fault" in what sense? Being born to poor, uneducated parents? Not being born particularly bright? Growing up in a blighted urban area with terrible schools? Failing to be Horatio Alger?

I mean, what possible comfort can one gain from uttering such "your own fault" nonsense? It's not even sufficient to persuade oneself, let alone others.
5.10.2006 6:27pm
SLS 1L:
many people born into poor households manage to achieve prosperity.
Given that there are so many poor people, even an extremely small percentage will indeed be "many."
If someone drops out of school, abuses drugs, or has a child too young or out of wedlock, it is their own fault.
Leaving aside the question of fault, I don't think the punishment for such offenses should be homelessness or other forms of dire poverty. In any case, you must be willing to apply this principle evenly. If a poor person uses drugs or drops out of school, they probably don't get another chance, and you say they deserve poverty. If a rich kid does this, they get expensive drug treatment programs, therapasts, and private academies for kids with problems to ensure that they get back on track. They don't wind up in poverty: are you willing to say that anyone who screws up while young doesn't deserve any success they achieve after that?
5.10.2006 6:44pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Anderson asks:


"Your own fault" in what sense? Being born to poor, uneducated parents? Not being born particularly bright? Growing up in a blighted urban area with terrible schools? Failing to be Horatio Alger?
You make it sound as though these are substantial obstacles to getting out of poverty. I graduated high school just below the poverty line. I knew that we weren't rich, but I had no idea that we were poor. Perhaps that was the difference--my parents didn't spend a lot of time whining. I chose not to make their mistakes, because I didn't like being poor. Poverty is a choice.

Terrible schools? That would be an issue if you needed a college education to get out of poverty. You usually need a college education to become affluent, but that's not the same thing as "not being poor."

I have a friend with net worth north of $100,000,000 who didn't go to college. I have other friends who dropped out of college and are millionaires. I'm not quite a millionaire (although that may change over the next year or so), and college didn't lead to wealth--wealth allowed me to go to college.

I mean, what possible comfort can one gain from uttering such "your own fault" nonsense? It's not even sufficient to persuade oneself, let alone others.
Comfort? It's just reality. Not every adult who is poor did it to themselves, but overwhelmingly, poverty is self-inflicted. I've read that if you take these three steps, your chances of being in poverty drop below 10%:

1. Graduate high school.

2. Wait to get married before getting pregnant.

3. Do not get divorced.

None of these are particularly difficult to do.
5.10.2006 6:48pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
SLS 1L writes:


Given that there are so many poor people, even an extremely small percentage will indeed be "many."
How do you define "poor people"? If you mean that people without adequate housing, who go hungry, who do not receive medical care, there aren't a lot of poor people.


Leaving aside the question of fault, I don't think the punishment for such offenses should be homelessness or other forms of dire poverty. In any case, you must be willing to apply this principle evenly. If a poor person uses drugs or drops out of school, they probably don't get another chance, and you say they deserve poverty.
Huh? Large numbers of kids who drop out of school eventually go back to college. My wife was teaching English composition to quite a collection of kids like this--some of them women with children that may have been the reason that they dropped out--at a local community college. The doors are open--for those prepared to take advantage of the opportunity.

If a rich kid does this, they get expensive drug treatment programs, therapasts, and private academies for kids with problems to ensure that they get back on track. They don't wind up in poverty: are you willing to say that anyone who screws up while young doesn't deserve any success they achieve after that?
This fantasy of yours bares little connection to reality. My brother-in-law came from a firmly upper middle class home--perhaps verging on lower upper class. He managed to work his way down into poverty class through regular applications of alcohol and pot in only three years. I have a friend who teaches at a well-known university--and his son, instead of going to college, decided to be a doper, and now is awaiting trial on drug charges in New Mexico. Another brother-in-law was the son of a University of Chicago professor--so he didn't go to college at all.

One of the biggest problems that kids from affluent or wealthy homes suffer is that drugs follow wealth, and are quite effective at destroying children with great potential. Poverty--at least if isn't too severe--seems to be among the most effective ways to get kids to work hard and take life seriously. Places that I have lived like Sonoma County are a reminder that wealth destroys kids. It is one of the reasons that I am far less enthused about low tax rates than I used to be.
5.10.2006 7:08pm
Brett Bellmore (mail):
Actually, no fault divorces can make number three "particularly difficult", since somebody else can decide to do it whether YOU want a divorce or not.
5.10.2006 7:09pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
Clayton,

The Economist laid it out some years ago. To avoid being poor in America you have to:

* Get a high school diploma

* Get and stay married (any marriage)

* Get a job (any job)

Only .5% of those who do those three things are poor.

They also pointed out that the lowest quintile of American society spends twice their reported income (not counting the free $8000 health care policy awarded to those in poverty). So they're not as poor as they seem.
5.10.2006 7:09pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
Luttig said it best: he wasn't going to stay on the 4th Circuit hoping for a Supreme appoitment. So, he went for the money. Nothing wrong with that.

As for whether we ought to pay judges more because many private practice lawyers earn many multiples of judges' salaries, I say no. There are many perks that go with being a federal judge---power, prestige, no billable hours, no clients, being able to do what you think is right (not just what a client wants)---that in my view more than make up for the discrepancy. This does not mean that judges' salaries should be locked into too low of a figure, just that you are using the wrong comparison when you look at private law firm profits in evaluating a federal judge's compensation.
5.10.2006 7:27pm
Anon-o-poster (mail):
Anyone who thinks Judge Luttig is doing this for the money doesn't know him. First, money does not light his fire. Second, his family is quite wealthy, and his kids would be able to go to whatever college they want to even if he had spent all his time since law school graduation sucking down pina coladas in Margaritaville.

Why not take him at face value that he finds this an exciting opportunity? By going to Boeing he gets, out of the gate, a major challenge. He's never spent much time practicing law, and now he gets to be neck deep in a swamp full of snakes. It's bound to be more interesting and challenging than slowly growing old at the CA4.

Beyond that, assuming he does well, in a couple of years of successful service on a top management team he moves onto the short list of potential CEOs. Can't you easily seem him being recruited, in 2010 or so, as the clean-it-up CEO for a Tyco type company that needs fresh, honest leadership?

On the other hand, maybe he will get involved in Republican politics in Illinois. To say they need some fresh talent there is the understatement of the century.
5.10.2006 7:29pm
ADB:
"* Get a high school diploma

* Get and stay married (any marriage)

* Get a job (any job)

Only .5% of those who do those three things are poor."

Um, what about the legal immigrants who come over here at the age of 35 or higher who have no education to speak of, speak poor English, and must take menial jobs to support their family? They are certainly not poor by choice and they certainly are not poor through any fault of their own. My family and my fiancee's family come from such backgrounds. Cramer, your statement is wrong because you assume that people are all similarly situated when in fact, they are not. People could be poor for any number of reasons (not just those that you mentioned): disability or death of a breadmaker in a family, forcing a child to work early instead of college... or the case of poor legal immigrants. People in America are not all the same. They do not all live under the same circumstances. These are only two possible scenarios where your statement does not hold true. There are many more.

It is true that some who start in poverty raise themselves up to wealth. But the vast majority do not. My fiancee and I are the only ones from our families to achieve a graduate-level education. But it wasn't easy.
5.10.2006 7:33pm
Shake-N-Bake (www):
"Boeing is a major american corporation. Being GC of it is a big deal, even on its own."

I can see it now...

I run into Mr. Luttig at one of the myriad events in the Chicago area, he introduces himself... "I'm kind of a big deal. I mean, people know me."

Though it won't be as funny without the goofy mustache and the spontaneous singing odes to scotch.
5.10.2006 7:38pm
Witness (mail):
"Second, his family is quite wealthy, and his kids would be able to go to whatever college they want to even if he had spent all his time since law school graduation sucking down pina coladas in Margaritaville."

Perhaps. But why the reference to his kids going off to college in his resignation letter? Why does this fact make this move "especially" "the right decision for...[his] family"?

It would seem that if what you are saying were true, the fact that his kids are going off to college would have no bearing on his decision to change jobs. Or is this reference too cryptic to be taken at face value?
5.10.2006 8:01pm
Cornellian (mail):
Prof. Bainbridge does ok for himself despite UCLA thanks to not having kids.

Aaah, and I had always wondered how he managed to drive a Porsche on a law professor's salary.

Re all the arguments about whether Luttig's salary is "paltry", it seems to me that people are simply arguing past each other. One side is arguing his salary isn't paltry relative to what most people make (or even what most smart, educated people make) while the other side is arguing that his salary is paltry relative to what people with his qualifications are able to make. Both of those positions are correct.
5.10.2006 9:00pm
mistermark:
I'm a little puzzled by the assumption that federal judges and big-firm law partners come from the same pool, and therefore we should assume that lawyers who become federal judges are making a big financial sacrifice. Lots of federal judges come from academia or government service (Justice Alito, for example), so the difference in salaries isn't that great for many of them. Also, from what I've seen, the skill sets for being a good federal judge and the skill sets for making partner at a mega-firm (and it's primarily partners at mega-firms who make the very high salaries people are talking about) are quite different, so just because someone is a partner at a Wall Street firm, we shouldn't assume he or she would be a good federal judge (or vice-versa).

Also, let's not forget that a lot of federal judges are located in places other than high cost of living places like New York or San Francisco. While $171,800 a year isn't a vast fortune, it goes a pretty long way in Phoenix, Portland, Denver or Tallahassee, and I suspect most federal judges live and come from such cities.
5.10.2006 9:30pm
frankcross (mail):
What I've learned:

* a federal judge's salary is tantamount to poverty

* those in poverty suffer this condition because of laziness, irresponsibility, etc.

ipso facto

federal judges are lazy and irresponsible?
5.10.2006 10:12pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Um, what about the legal immigrants who come over here at the age of 35 or higher who have no education to speak of, speak poor English, and must take menial jobs to support their family? They are certainly not poor by choice and they certainly are not poor through any fault of their own.
And I said "most" and acknowledged that there were circumstances where through no fault of one's own, a person might be poor. But these are not typical circumstances, and your example above, while not a path to affluence, is not necessarily a path to poverty. I've known more than a few immigrants whose English wasn't great, and took menial jobs when they go there. They didn't stay in menial jobs, and more importantly, they weren't poor. To stay poor when you are working at a regular job is really quite difficult.

My family and my fiancee's family come from such backgrounds. Cramer, your statement is wrong because you assume that people are all similarly situated when in fact, they are not.
I make no such assumption. But I know too many people who manage to do okay, not rich, not even affluent, but not in poverty, with a lot going against them. Consistent work does wonders.

People could be poor for any number of reasons (not just those that you mentioned): disability or death of a breadmaker in a family, forcing a child to work early instead of college... or the case of poor legal immigrants.
Go back and read what I wrote. You obviously didn't. There's a reason that I used the word "most" because there are people who are poor without the usual self-destructive reasons. But they are exceptional.

People in America are not all the same. They do not all live under the same circumstances. These are only two possible scenarios where your statement does not hold true. There are many more.
I believe that all you have demonstrated is that you don't read very carefully, or engage in reactive responses.
5.10.2006 10:31pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Actually, no fault divorces can make number three "particularly difficult", since somebody else can decide to do it whether YOU want a divorce or not.
That's true. I've had a few friends whose wondered where in the heck that came from. But the majority of divorces that I have seen have involved one, sometimes two, selfish people who had plenty of warning that something had gone terribly wrong--and didn't much care.

I understand the motivation for no-fault divorce--but I sometimes fear that we went from making divorce far too difficult (with the extreme example of faking adultery, as used to be common) to making it far too easy. Reducing the costs too much may reduce incentive to work a little harder at figuring out the core causes. Selfishness is a great killer of marriages, and perhaps if the consequences were a bit more serious, it might cause some selfish individuals or couples to put a little more effort into figuring out what needs to be fixed. Of course, putting selfishness in question seems contrary to the dominant spirit of the modern age.
5.10.2006 10:39pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Interesting that in all this blame-the-poor blather, only Clayton attempted to answer the question I asked -- are Americans less virtuous than Europeans, at least those Europeans in countries with lower poverty rates than that in the U.S.? But Clayton only suggests the cockamamie theory that maybe Americans are less moral because we're descendants of criminals. Yikes.

Of course the point was that maybe social policies in place in Europe help alleviate poverty rates -- because I sure don't think Americans are less moral or virtuous. But apparently some of you right wingers do.
5.10.2006 10:51pm
Tom Tildrum:
It's worth noting that a federal judge's salary is not just in the top 5% of American earners, it's also GUARANTEED (with likely increases from time to time) for every year for the rest of the judge's life, as long as he or she wants to stay on the bench. That kind of job security is obviously not available to a third-year law firm associate, and it carries enormous value in and of itself.

Here's a different question: What are Luttig's qualifications to become GC of Boeing?
5.10.2006 11:56pm
Waldensian (mail):

I've read that if you take these three steps, your chances of being in poverty drop below 10%:

1. Graduate high school.

2. Wait to get married before getting pregnant.

3. Do not get divorced.

None of these are particularly difficult to do.

Ah, the voice of inexperience.

You really have to trust me on this: in the right circumstances, staying married can be darn near impossible.
5.11.2006 12:06am
therut:
I have yet to see any of our so called welfare programs on the whole relieve poverty. I have seen people live on welfare their whole life. If that amount of money is keeping these people out of poverty it is a surprise to me. The only way I keep myself from getting really angry with the stupid welfare state is trick my mind into thinking of it as just giving people enough to pacify them so they won't rob the rest of sociey. My mother who grew up in poverty told me to think of it that way. Father killed at age 15. 3 siblings. Single mother who never remarried. Lived in house with dirt floor etc.. Somehow all siblings lived productive lives. One military,One College educated a teacher, one a small business owner, one homemaker. All middle middle class. I think welfare would have made the outcome worse. Now these siblings had a total of 12 children and of those none are in poverty. 8 with college degrees and one with Doctorate degree. Imagine that. How oh How did this poor family end up in this much better situation without some liberal weflare program.
5.11.2006 12:25am
Dutchman (mail):
I agree with mistermark and Tom Tildrum. While the federal judiciary will not make one notably rich, it does provide financial security. Once one satisfies the rule of 80 (age plus years of service), he or she qualifies for a full pension, which is full salary and benefits. At that point, one can go on senior status and maintain a minimum workload of (I think) 25% and continue to receive increases in pay. (Upon complete retirement, one's pension figure is locked in, which means it loses value over time due to inflation.) Even if he didn't have the cash on hand for college tuition between 2010 and 2018 (his kids are 14 and 10 now), he could have borrowed and paid it back over time and still made ends meet.

Also, the additional money made by law-firm partners does not necessarily buy more happiness. They must fund their own retirements, and they are likely to not spend their earnings before they die. If they are cautious, they will want to postpone retirement until they're confident they won't outlive their nest egg, which means they probably will die with significant assets. It's easier for a federal judge, who simiply receives an annuity. And a judge can live on less than a law firm partner and be just as happy. No need for a big house, flashy car, expensive club dues, etc., to feed the image and keep the money coming in. Granted, a federal judge is not likely to leave a large inheritance, but he or she can pay the bills in his or her own lifetime. Thus, although I am sure there were multiple considerations, I suspect that the challenge and excitement of something new (instead of one or two more decades on top of 15 years at the same job) outweighed financial considerations.
5.11.2006 1:04am
Christopher Cooke:
First: regarding Luttig's qualifications to be Boeing's GC, I am sure that,as a 4th Circuit Judge, he knows many powerful politicians in DC whom he can call on a moment's notice the next time a Boeing Chairman gets in trouble by hiring some Pentagon flak who is busy approving a multi-billion dollar government contract that favors Boeing over its rival (no connection, I am sure, between the job offer and the contract award). So, I would say Luttig is well-qualified to cash in his government chips and jump into the world of high-powered influence peddling. Perhaps Halliburton should have hired him? (I guess they don't need any more billions right now, after the "rebuilding Iraq" deal that Cheney say he didn't arrange for them, even though the contracting officer called his office about the award, a senior contracting official opposed the award and was demoted, and it was a sole source contract award).

Second: yes, Americans are less virtuous than Europeans, and that explains our higher poverty rates. It also explains our recent series of Presidents (I would exempt the Italians and the French from the "more virtuous" category, however).

Third: on staying married, it can be difficult for some to master. My advice: choose wisely at the outset, and work on things as you go along.
5.11.2006 1:15am
Ming the Merciless Siamese Cat (mail):
Realistically, all of a person's material needs and nearly all sensible wants can be met on $100,000 a year.

Cramer, you must lead a very mundane life. While $100,000 a year would certainly cover my material needs, it doesn't begin to cover my sensible wants. This is why I elected not to pursue opportunities in academia or the judiciary (despite their other attractions) in order to pursue a big law firm partnership.

Yes, the work I do is sometimes (often?) mundane, routine and maddening. Yes, the hours are trying. However, the money I earn has enabled me to fill the non-working hours of my, and my family's, life with choices and experiences that would not have been possible on a $i100,000 salary. We've spent Tet in pre-industtrial villages in rural Vietnam. We've spent a week on horseback in the Masi Mari. We've been to nearly 100 countries. We've experience great art, great theatre, great opera, great music. We pay for the schooling of 4 children in third-world countries who we've met on our travels. My wife took 10 years away from her practice to raise our children. We've hired tutors to help our children with the subjects they struggled with. We paid for 24 hour care so that my wife's mother can live out her remaining years at home despite serious infirmaties. We've had experiences we never dreamed of when, as undergrads, we married.

I can do things that, e.g., Justice Scalia or Judge Luttig (pre-career change), despite their talents and prestige, cannot afford to do. On the other hand, they exercise power and have an impact far beyound mine. We all have our priorities. I salute Judge Luttig for possessing the qualities that will enable him to experience both worlds.


None of these things are necessities of life, but they are surely things that a sensible person might want.
5.11.2006 3:31am
Witness (mail):
Ming:

It seems that you've put a lot of thought and long-term planning into your career choice. I'm just wondering why you did not pursue a career that would afford you the money to do all you have done (plus much, much more) and wouldn't also have to make the sacrifice of doing "mundane, routine and maddening" work.

It just seems that if you find your work to be "mundane, routine and maddening," then the only reason you're a "BigLaw" partner is the money. And yet, "BigLaw" partner money isn't all that great compared to many other jobs. If it's all about the money, why not do something more lucrative?
5.11.2006 3:49am
Max:
The internet gives all kinds of people an opportunity to say really dumb things under the cloak of anonymity. But perhaps the dumbest ever is that its easier to be a rich plumber than a rich lawyer. Congrats, bozo. The average salary for a lawyer in the US is about 150K. The average salary for an advanced plumber in the US is about 55-60K. Why don't you calculate how long is going to take a lawyer to pay off student loans and then start lapping the field? I'm a lawyer; there's nothing quite so ridiculous as lawyers who pretend as if they've got a tough lot in life. But I guess I can understand how someone would get confused because of all the rich plumbers and HVAC installers they hear about while rich lawyers fly under the radar. Clown.
5.11.2006 1:45pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
Wouldn't an argument based upon Christian scripture be lost on Eugene?

j/k

I've got to agree with Alan Meese. I believe, should Luttig even want to be a Supreme, at some point in the future, a stint as a corporate executive might improve his chances of a nomination.
5.11.2006 6:40pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
BTW: Which Supremes aren't already millionaires? TTBOMK, only Thomas and Alito.
5.11.2006 6:44pm