For Immediate Release: Monday, June 16, 2003
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin (503) 235-8012 or Pete Sepp (703) 683-5700

No Huge Raises for Federal Judges, Groups Say

Today, a coalition sent letters to every Member of Congress, urging them to oppose the proposed 16.5% raise for federal judges. The letter follows.

Dear Senator/Representative:

In recent weeks, a chorus of attorneys and federal judges has been decrying supposedly low federal judicial salaries. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist has even claimed astonishingly that boosting salaries is "the most pressing issue facing the federal judiciary today."

They plead for an eye-popping 16.5% federal judicial pay hike. With the proposed raises, in addition to benefits and generous pensions, the Chief Justice would be paid $231,400 (from the present $198,600), associate justices $221,500 (from the present $190,100), circuit judges $191,100 (from the present $164,000) and district judges $180,200 (from the present $154,700).

There is no need for such a raise. Our federal judges are not poor, either in absolute terms, by comparison with their colleagues, or by historical standards. Contrary to some reports that federal judges' salaries have been heavily eroded by inflation, salaries for district court judges are higher than the average during the past 50 years, adjusted for inflation. Fifty years ago, their salaries were $51,000 less, in current dollars. Since the infamous 1989 midnight congressional pay grab, district court judges are $22,000 above inflation, in current dollars.

Circuit judges already enjoy more than twice the average lawyer's earnings, which was $80,000 per year, according to the 2000 Bureau of Labor Statistics National Compensation Survey.

The federal government cannot afford to give such lavish raises to its judges, far above the already generous salaries of most Members of Congress. Our U.S. government debt is currently $6.6 trillion, and rising fast. The fiscal picture is grim and deteriorating. The Congressional Budget Office is forecasting a federal deficit in excess of $400 billion for 2003. Some private analysts predict even worse for 2004.

If judges wish to leave the bench to earn more, they are free to do so in the private, for-profit sector. Their public service is not compulsory. There is no lack of excellent law professors, general practitioners, and public interest, legal services, labor, civil liberties and government lawyers eager and willing to replace them. For most of these lawyers, the current federal judicial salaries would be a sizable raise.

We strongly urge you to oppose the proposed special 16.5% judicial pay raise. Federal judges are supposed to demonstrate moral as well as legal authority. They should set an example of prudent self-restraint at a time of growing sacrifices by the working families who pay their salaries.


Ralph Nader
Gary Ruskin, Director, Congressional Accountability Project
Pete Sepp, Vice President for Communications, National Taxpayers Union
Paul M. Weyrich, President, Free Congress Foundation
Jill Lancelot, President/Co-Founder, Taxpayers for Common Sense
Dave Williams, Vice President of Policy, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste
Joe Seehusen, Executive Director, Libertarian Party

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For more information about the proposed federal judicial pay raise, see the Congressional Accountability Project website at <>.