Chief Justice John Roberts has renewed his call for a federal judicial pay increase in his 2008 Year End Report on the Federal Judiciary. This is hardly a surprise. Roberts and his predecessors have been calling for a pay increase for many years now.
I criticized the Chief Justice's earlier arguments for a pay increase in a series of posts in 2006 and 2007 (in reverse chronological order, see here, here, here, and here). Nothing in the Chief Justice's most recent report leads me to change my mind. I still think that there is no evidence that salaries are too low to attract and retain quality judges and that total judicial compensation is actually quite high once we take account of the non-salary benefits of being a federal judge, including generous pensions, prestige, and excellent hours and working conditions.
However, it's worth noting that this year's report is a lot less hyperbolic than its predecessors. The 2006 report (which I criticized in this post) claimed that low judicial pay is causing a "constitutional crisis." Last year's report argued that failure to increase judicial pay might imperil "the critical role of our courts in preserving individual liberty, promoting commerce, protecting property, and ensuring that every person who appears in an American court can expect fair and impartial justice." This year's report largely avoids such rhetorical excesses. Indeed, the Chief Justice now emphasizes that "the judiciary remains strong" and that it "is resilient and can weather the occasional neglect that is often the fate of those who quietly do their work." Also, the 2006 report argued for a "substantial" pay increase, while this year's merely calls for "judicial compensation that keeps pace with inflation." I actually agree that adjusting judicial pay to inflation might be a desirable reform (as I noted in my very first post on this subject), though I doubt that the consequences of failing to enact this change will be anywhere near as dire as the Chief Justice predicts. Unfortunately, the report does not entirely make clear whether the Chief Justice is asking Congress to adjust judicial pay to inflation going forward or whether he is still urging Congress to raise judicial pay to the level it would be at had it been adjusted for cost of living increases throughout the last 20 years (as he advocated in the 2007 report). I favor the former reform, but believe that the latter is unnecessary.
It is pretty much inevitable that the Chief Justice will argue for increased judicial pay. After all, representing the interests of his fellow federal judges is more or less part of his job. Given that constraint, I think that this year's report demonstrates a praiseworthy rollback of the excessive demands and rhetoric of previous years.
UPDATE: For readers who may be interested, current salaries for federal judges are as follows:
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court: $217,400
Associate Justice: 208,100
Circuit (Court of Appeals) Judge: 179,500
District (trial) Judge: 169,300
Note that these figures don't include non-salary compensation, such as an excellent health care plan and extremely generous pension benefits.