“I suspect many are tired of hearing it, and I know I am tired of saying it, but I must make this plea again — Congress must provide judicial compensation that keeps pace with inflation,” he wrote on the last day of 2008.
After that, in a time of budget cuts and sequestration, he pretty much didn’t bother to ask.
But higher salaries may be on the way for federal jurists, and Roberts didn’t have to do a thing. In fact, the money would come because Roberts and the rest of the Supreme Court last month decided to lie low.
The court said it would not review a 2012 decision by the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that said Congress had to pay judges the cost-of-living adjustments that it promised but failed to deliver in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2007 and 2010.
If the adjustments had been made, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, a district judge’s salary would be $197,000 instead of the current $174,000 and a circuit judge would be making $209,100 instead of $184,500.
The issue makes all involved a bit uncomfortable: judges suing the government of which they are a part, the Justice Department defending Congress’s prerogative to withhold the pay bump even as the administration echoes a judge’s opinion that more money might be warranted “as a matter of justice to the nation’s underpaid . . . judges,” and, finally, judges passing judgment on a matter affecting their own finances.
The Supreme Court, as is its custom, did not give a reason for declining to review the decision in
Beer v. United States
, brought by U.S. District Judge Peter Beer of Louisiana, Senior Circuit Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and four others.
The six judges filed the suit because “they just decided enough was enough,” said Christopher Landau, the Washington appellate lawyer who represents them.
And while only they stand to recover damages because of the ruling, a class-action suit that could include all federal judges, including members of the Supreme Court, is also working its way through the system.
As Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said in a petition urging the justices to overturn the ruling, the lower court’s decision “invites every sitting Article III judge (along with numerous other federal officials whose salaries are linked to judicial salaries) to sue the United States for damages, and many have already done so.”
Article III refers to the constitutional provision that establishes federal courts.
The case involves both a statute and a constitutional provision that is meant to ensure the independence of the judiciary. The compensation clause says that judges should “receive for their Services a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.”