The following item is by Supreme Court Correspondent Tony Mauro.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. is calling on Congress to make approval of a judicial salary increase "a first order of business" when it comes back from recess in January.
In his third annual year-end report on the state of the judiciary, Roberts also pledged to work on improving relations with the other branches of government and to continue reforming procedures for handling judicial misconduct complaints. The report was formally released at 12:01 a.m. Jan. 1.
Overall, Roberts said Americans should take "enormous pride in our judicial system" which, he said, serves as a beacon around the world. "When foreign nations discard despotism and undertake to reform their judicial systems, they look to the United States judiciary as the model for securing the rule of law," he said.
Without specifically mentioning Pakistan, where the dismissal and arrest of the chief justice in 2007 triggered turmoil, Roberts said "we do not need to look beyond the front page of any newspaper" to understand the importance of a "skilled and independent judiciary."
Roberts recounted how Russian Supreme Court justice Yuriy Ivanovitch Sidorenko, in a recent visit to the United States, visited Arlington National Cemetery to pay tribute to the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Roberts' predecessor and mentor. Sidorenko and Rehnquist had become friends, Roberts said, and Rehnquist had offered "advice and encouragement" as the Russian judiciary was reformed in the post-Soviet era.
In his report Roberts also invoked Rehnquist's "20-year pursuit" of judicial salary increases in urging swift action in 2008 on the issue. Roberts noted that federal trial judges are "earning about the same as (and in some cases less than) first-year lawyers at firms in major cities, where many of the judges are located." The words "first-year lawyers" are italicized in the text of Roberts' report. U.S. district court judges are paid $165,200 a year, the same as members of Congress. Salaries for first-years at many top U.S. law firms hit $160,000 this year (not counting bonuses), and Williams & Connolly recently announced that it would pay incoming associates $180,000.
The House Judiciary Committee on Dec. 12 endorsed, by a 28-5 vote, a bill that would raise the pay of district judges to $218,000, with similar increases for other judges. The Senate was considering a similar bill when the session ended in December. Roberts said he was grateful for support from President George W. Bush and leaders of both parties of Congress on the salary issue, adding, "I urge prompt passage as a first order of business in the new session."
On the issue of judicial misconduct, Roberts said, "the judiciary must relentlessly ensure that federal judges maintain the highest standards of integrity." He said the Judicial Conference, the policy-making body of the judiciary, had already implemented most of the recommendations for procedural changes made in 2006 by a committee that Justice Stephen Breyer headed. Rehnquist had created the committee in 2004 in part to respond to congressional complaints that it was difficult to hold judges accountable for alleged ethical violations. Further action will be considered at the conference's next meeting in March, Roberts said. "The judiciary cannot tolerate misconduct," Roberts said. "The public rightly expects the judiciary to be fair but firm in policing its own."
Roberts also spoke of the need to improve communications with Congress. It was easier for the two branches to communicate, he noted, before the Court moved from its space in the U.S. Capitol to its own building in 1935. Roberts quipped, "I am assured that my colleagues are happy in our separate building and not inclined to move back to the Capitol (even were we invited)." So Roberts said other avenues of communication with Congress and the executive branch will be sought to "strive, through respectful exchange of insights and ideas, to know and appreciate where the others stand."