Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist says today's 25 percent pay increase for federal judges will help them cope with a sharply rising caseload of drug crimes and bankruptcies.
In his year-end report on the federal court system, Rehnquist noted that the courts' budget for the current fiscal year has topped $2 billion for the first time.
This growing caseload, "fueled by drug cases and an ever-rising tide of personal bankruptcies," is sure to require even greater spending in the future, the Supreme Court chief justice said.
"With our overall caseload continuing to multiply," Rehnquist said in the report released yesterday, "the judiciary will be facing a continued need for expansion of our budget."
Drug prosecutions in federal courts rose 6 percent in 1990, Rehnquist said, "while filings for violations of weapons and immigration laws climbed more than 23 percent each as the Immigration and Naturalization Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms used their expanded resources to attack drug networks."
Rehnquist said 725,000 new federal bankruptcy petitions were filed in 1990. Personal bankruptcy filings rose by 14 percent, and business bankruptcies by 3 percent.
As 1990 ended, the chief justice reported, 975,000 bankruptcy cases were pending in federal courts.
Rehnquist said that Congress "averted a crisis" by approving a salary increase for federal judges.
"Adoption of this increase averted a crisis in the judiciary by fairly addressing what had been one of the most important issues affecting our branch in the late '80s," he said.
The pay raise boosts the chief justice's annual salary from $124,000 to $160,600. The salaries of the Supreme Court's eight associate justices rise from $118,600 to $153,600.
Salaries for federal appellate judges jump from $102,500 to $132,700; and for federal trial judges from $96,600 to $125,000.
At the beginning of the 1980s, the chief justice's job paid $75,000 a year. Associate Supreme Court justices were paid $72,000; appellate judges $57,500; and trial judges $54,500.
Rehnquist, in testifying before Congress in 1989, had urged hefty pay raises for federal judges. He had called judges' salaries at that time inadequate, and said they would cause "more resignations from the bench, more damage to the morale of those judges who remain and more difficulty in recruiting new judges."
President Bush recently signed a law creating 85 new federal judgeships, raising the total to 828. Rehnquist, in his year-end report, said, "The judiciary was in desperate need of additional judge power."