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.
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
“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
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.