There’s been quite a lot of discussion, on a couple of e-mail lists I’m on, of Chief Justice Roberts’s advocacy of higher pay for federal judges. One question that came up is, why should judges of the same rank all earn the same pay in every part of the country, regardless of living expenses’ variations in different regions? As one scholar pointed out, for the first century of the federal judiciary the salaries were variable by region—though I suspect this originally had to do with the varying workloads in larger and smaller states (the judicial “districts” originally being whole states in 1789) than with estimates of the variable cost of living.
Federal district judges’ salaries were rendered uniform, regardless of location, only in 1891, and have been uniform ever since. It might make sense to revisit that policy. Since the Constitution forbids reducing any judge’s salary, such a change could only include raises for some but not all, or raises for all but not to the same level. As another e-mailer put it, though, imagine the howls if judges in one district began to draw higher pay than those in another district nearby!