Among the many excellent qualities of Chief Justice John Roberts is his judiciousness, not a bad quality for any judge to possess. It was on display again in his annual report on the state of the federal judiciary.
According to the Washington Post, every year since 1970, the Chief Justice’s annual report has called for bigger salaries for federal judges. In my opinion, it’s a more than reasonable recommendation; federal judges are significantly underpaid by the standard of their profession and of their employer.
Obviously, judges can’t be paid what partners at major law firms make, even though their work is more important and they are often better lawyers. But they can and should be paid more than junior associates at these firms, government trial lawyers and senior government bureaucrats, and senior law professors.
Unfortunately, they are not. Moreover, their salaries have declined in real terms by 25 percent since 1969. During this period, real compensation for lawyers has risen substantially.
This year, however, Chief Justice Roberts declined to renew what is presently a futile plea for an increase in judge’s salaries. He wrote:
In the past few years, I have adhered to the tradition that Chief Justice Burger initiated and have provided my perspective on the most critical needs of the judiciary. . . This year, however, when the political branches are faced with so many difficult issues, and when so many of our fellow citizens have been touched by hardship, the public might welcome a year-end report limited to what is essential: the courts are operating soundly, and the nation’s dedicated federal judges are conscientiously discharging their duties.
As far as I can tell, the state of the economy — i.e., of “our fellow citizens” — has not caused many in the private or public sector to shy away from special pleading, including special pleading that lacks justification. We are fortunate to have a Chief Justice who has the decency and good judgment to provide an exception.