New York Times:
Federal judges rarely left the bench in the past but are now leaving at an increasing rate, 38 in the past six years, including 17 in the last two years. “Inadequate compensation directly threatens the viability of life tenure,” the chief justice said.
Further, he noted that judges were increasingly drawn from among lawyers already working in the public sector, often as state court judges or federal magistrate judges. Fewer than 40 percent of new federal district judges come from the private sector, Chief Justice Roberts said, adding, “It changes the nature of the federal judiciary when judges are no longer drawn primarily from among the best lawyers in the practicing bar.”
By statute, federal district judges receive the same salaries as members of Congress, now $165,200 a year. Judges on the federal appeals courts receive $175,100; associate justices of the Supreme Court, $203,000; and the chief justice $212,100. The linkage of district judges’ and Congressional salaries means that judges pay the price when members of Congress discern that it would be politically unpopular to raise their own pay.
That is not the only problem, from the judges’ perspective. Their last substantial pay raise was a 25 percent increase provided by a 1989 law, the Ethics Reform Act, under which judges lost the right to earn most types of outside income in return for the raise and the promise of regular cost-of-living increases. But there were no increases in 5 of the last 13 years. Congress ended its 2006 session without providing a cost-of-living increase for the current fiscal year. “Congressional inaction in the face of this situation is grievously unfair,” the chief justice said.