William Henderson, a law professor at the University of Indiana, has a very interesting analysis of the issue whether federal judges' pay creates a "constitutional crisis," as the Chief Justice suggested in his annual report. C.J. Roberts's "Constitutional Crisis" and the K Street Problem, Empirical Legal Studies, Jan. 27, 2007.
Chief Justice Roberts compared federal judges' salaries with the earnings of partners in the law firms in the Am Law 50 (American Lawyer's list of the biggest firms). Prof. Henderson put together a chart showing that, indeed, the partners' income has grown much faster in the last twenty years than has the judges'.
But are Am Law 50 law firms the right comparison group? Henderson goes on to look at partners in all law firms. And federal judges have done a little better than keep up with the average partner 20-25 years out of law school. Studies of Chicago lawyers in 1975 and 1995 showed solo practitioners' earnings going down dramatically, with many of them working second jobs in the 1990s.
Henderson also points out that federal judges make a lot more than state judges. Does it take that much more talent to think about federal law than state law?
You might be interested in the National Center for State Courts report Henderson cites: Survey of Judicial Salaries (as of July 1, 2006) (revised March 1, 2007). Washington judges are pretty much in the middle:
Henderson concludes by noting that judges with less than kingly salaries have to make decisions like: smaller house or longer commute?
In other words, their problems will be more like 98% of the American electorate, albeit still very much at the high end.I'm reminded of a comment by a public defender:
Why is this a "constitutional crisis"? Some of us might call it "sensible policy."
Well, tough cookies. It's called public service, Mr. Chief Justice. Many of us do it for much, much less than federal judges do. And we don't have the job security of life tenure. Or people calling us "Your Honor" all the time. Suck it up.I'm Having a Constitutional Crisis About My Low Salary, Too, Injustice Anywhere ..., Jan. 4, 2007.
Graphics from Survey of Judicial Salaries.