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Bench Memos

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Show them the Money



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In today’s Wall Street Journal (sub. req’d), former Fed chairman Paul Volcker makes the case for higher pay for federal judges. He doesn’t have a better argument than the exceedingly poor one made some weeks ago by Chief Justice Roberts (which I tackled here at NRO), but at least he refrains from recycling the worst point that Roberts made, namely that somehow the institutional independence of our courts of law was damaged by the allegedly low salaries of judges.

Volcker claims that the $165,200 salary of federal district judges is too low—he’d like to raise it by roughly $100,000—but he neglects to note that this is the same salary as rank-and-file members of Congress, who, unlike federal judges, often have to maintain two homes. Is Volcker willing to kick in an extra $100K per congressional salary too? And if not, why not? For my part, I’m willing to give judges any reasonable pay increase that goes equally to members of Congress, whose work is at least as important to the public. But the judiciary’s partisans never make this offer, for some reason.

“The truth is there should be no shortage of men and women interested in federal judgeships,” writes Volcker. (I’m sure he meant good men and women for the job, too.) Well, yeah. And the truth is, there is no such shortage, and Volcker, who presumably knows something about labor markets, hasn’t begun to make a case that there is one. All he and Roberts have shown is that some members of the federal judiciary have a severe case of income envy when they glance at their private-sector colleagues in the legal profession.



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