The prospects have improved for a small increase in federal judges’ paychecks — in the near term, at least.
House members voted Wednesday for a $410 billion spending plan to keep the federal government running through September, and the plan includes a cost-of-living adjustment for the federal judiciary for the 2009 calendar year. According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the proposal would give judges a 2.8 percent increase retroactive to January.
Though it wouldn’t bring judges close to the salaries of their friends in private practice or in deanships at top law schools, it would end their status as the only federal employees who did not get a cost-of-living adjustment this year. They have gone without such an increase in seven of the last 14 years, and Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. has made the issue a priority.
The spending plan now heads to the Senate, which has been less receptive for arguments for higher judicial pay and could amend the plan. In October, senators removed plans for the judiciary’s 2009 cost-of-living adjustment from auto-bailout legislation passed by the House.
Whatever the outcome for this year, judges probably shouldn’t expect much next year. Citing the recession and increasing unemployment, House members voted Wednesday in the same legislation to turn down their own cost-of-living adjustment scheduled for January 2010. Because judicial pay is linked to congressional pay, the chances for a judicial adjustment are looking grim.
President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for the federal government’s 2010 fiscal year, which the White House released this morning, does not include a cost of living adjustment or pay raise for the federal judiciary.
That doesn’t mean the judiciary will give up.
“We remain hopeful that Congress will give judges a cost of living adjustment for 2010, even though they have denied themselves one,” says Karen Redmond, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.