Bench Memos

A Resignation over Judicial Pay

According to this National Law Journal article, federal district judge Stephen G. Larson has announced that he will resign from the bench because Congress’s failure to increase judicial salaries makes it impossible for him to support his family.  Larson, 44, who was appointed by President Bush to the Central District of California in 2006, has seven children.  He has a long career of public service, including nine years as a prosecutor and six years as a magistrate.


My sympathies are genuinely with Larson, who may reasonably have expected at the time he was appointed that a substantial increase in judicial pay was imminent.  As I discussed in this February 2008 post, the judicial-pay bill reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee would have raised the salaries of federal district judges to $218,000 (from $169,300), of federal appellate judges to $231,100 (from $179,500), of associate Supreme Court justices to $267,900 (from $208,100), and of the Chief Justice to $279,900 (from $217,400).  But that bill was apparently stymied because of some of its ancillary provisions.


I am of course not contending that Larson’s resignation itself proves the need for an increase in judicial salaries.  The case for an increase rises or falls on its broader systemic costs and benefits.  For what it’s worth, my own strong impression is that a substantial increase is warranted, though I would prefer that a locality-pay component, following the executive-branch model, be incorporated.  (That approach might be thought to raise constitutional difficulties in the event a judge moves his chambers from a higher-pay locality to a lower-pay one—and thereby faces a reduction in his overall compensation—but I think those difficulties can be finessed one way or another.)