Roberts wants a raise for federal judges


    In his first year-end assessment of the federal judiciary, Chief
    Justice John Roberts urged Congress to increase judicial pay to help
    keep good judges on the bench and to recruit new ones.

    Roberts,
    who succeeded the late William Rehnquist, warned Congress that judges’
    pay is an issue that is driving them off the bench and deterring
    qualified lawyers from throwing their names into consideration for
    judgeships.

    “A strong and independent judiciary is not something
    that, once established, maintains itself,” Roberts wrote. “It is
    instead a trust that every generation is called upon to preserve, and
    the values it secures can be lost as readily through neglect as direct
    attack.”

    In many of his 19 year-end reports, Rehnquist put
    judicial pay raises at the top of his wish list for Congress’
    consideration, once noting wryly that he realized he was “beating a
    dead horse.”

    Roberts opened his report on the federal courts by
    insisting that he didn’t want to seem presumptuous after just three
    months on the job. But, like Rehnquist, he did not mince words on the
    pay issue and called it a “direct threat to judicial independence.”

    He
    said judges are leaving the bench in greater numbers than ever before,
    compared to the 1960s when only a handful of federal judges retired or
    resigned. Since 1990, he said, 92 judges have left the bench, 59 of
    them to go into more lucrative private practice. In the past five
    years, 37 judges have left, nine of them last year, Roberts said.

    Real
    pay for judges has declined substantially, the chief justice said. “If
    Congress gave judges a raise of 30 percent tomorrow, judges would _
    after adjusting for inflation _ be making about what judges made in
    1969,” he wrote. “This is not fair to our nation’s federal judges and
    should not be allowed to continue.”

    Roberts said judges
    understand the difficult funding choices Congress must make. “But the
    courts play an essential role in ensuring that we live in a society
    governed by the rule of law,” he wrote. “In order to preserve the
    independence of our courts, we must ensure that the judiciary is
    provided the tools to do the job.”

    The chief justice also asked
    Congress to help the judiciary ward off its landlord, the General
    Services Administration. Roberts said the courts spent 16 percent of
    its 2005 budget on rent, while the Justice Department paid only 3
    percent of its budget to the GSA.

    In fiscal year 2005, Roberts
    said, the judiciary paid $926 million to GSA in rent. The GSA’s actual
    cost for providing space to the courts was only $426 million, he said.

    It
    is unfair for the courts to pay more than other agencies, Roberts said.
    “The federal judiciary cannot continue to serve as a profit center for
    GSA,” he said.

    Roberts also urged Congress to pay for increased
    security for judges, noting the murders in early 2005 of the mother and
    husband of a federal judge in Chicago.

    The year-end report showed
    that the Supreme Court’s docket continues to decrease while federal
    courts across the nation are experiencing record increases.

    Bankruptcy
    filings skyrocketed to nearly 1.8 million, largely because of the rush
    to beat a new law that went into effect this year that limits such
    cases, he said.

    Filings in the appellate courts rose 9 percent to
    an all-time high of more than 68,000 in 2005. Roberts said the numbers
    would have been higher if Hurricane Katrina hadn’t disrupted operations
    at the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Court of Appeals in September.

    © 2006 The Associated Press