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Increasing justices', federal judges' pay a tough sell

  • Story Highlights
  • Bipartisan bill would raise federal judges' salaries by about one-third
  • Some in Congress reluctant to imply that judges worth more than legislators
  • Proposed raise not enough to lure high-paid lawyers to serve, critics say
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From Bill Mears
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- If there is one thing Supreme Court justices -- and perhaps every federal judge -- will agree on, it is that they are not being paid enough.

The subject of judicial salaries has been a lonely cause for years among the 875 or so members of the U.S. bench -- which includes trial, appellate, bankruptcy and territorial judges -- as well as the nine Supreme Court justices.

But a bill introduced in the Senate last month would boost their salaries by about a third, and unlink past increases that were tied to congressional raises.

Under bipartisan legislation, the Federal Judicial Salary Restoration Act would give:

• U.S. district judges -- who preside over trials -- a raise from $165,200 to $247,800;

• Court of Appeals judges a raise from $175,100 to $262,700;

• Associate justices of the Supreme Court a boost from $203,000 to $304,500;

• And the chief justice of the United States an increase from $212,100 to $318,200.

Congressional sources say the bill faces a considerably tougher political road in the House.

Some lawmakers have resisted unlinking their pay from judges' and giving them more money, saying that would imply members of Congress are less important than members of the judiciary. But the House last week passed a $4,400 cost-of-living increase for its members.

Some members of the media were also less than sympathetic.

A Washington Post editorial last week noted, "Higher pay would be unlikely to greatly increase the number of qualified applicants from the private sector," since a millionaire private attorney reluctant to join the bench in the first place probably would not be enticed by promises of a pay increase that would still be hundreds of thousands of dollars less than he or she earns now.

Several Supreme Court justices have told members of Congress the quality and diversity of the federal bench are compromised when many top lawyers in the private sector will not even consider becoming judges, which would mean a subsequent and often dramatic drop in pay.

Because of strong investments, at least six of the nine Supreme Court justices are millionaires, according to financial records released last month. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About U.S. Courts

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