Compensation of the Federal Judiciary: A Reexamination

The compensation of the federal judiciary has been a persistent issue since the enactment of the Judiciary Act of 1789. The problem has been traditionally perceived in the context of particular proposals for salary increases, but the underlying issues are much more fundamental than the concerns of the day. The institutional arrangements by which judicial compensation is determined and the factors which shape that determination have a profound impact on the fiscal and human resources of the judiciary, on the power relationships among the three branches of the national government, and, thereby, on the independence and quality of the judicial branch. Though many analogous problems are shared by state judges, those of the federal judiciary are of special concern. Its judges enjoy a salient prestige, its courts are distributed geographically throughout the country, and its relationship with Congress and the Executive Branch is unique. While the states differ widely in their approaches to judicial compensation, these differences no doubt reflect variations in local needs and priorities. The federal system itself, on the other hand, establishes a dichotomy which sets federal courts and judges apart from their state counterparts, implying separate consideration of their requirements. This analysis, therefore, will first examine and criticize the present system of compensation for federal judges. Next, an inquiry will be made into the purposes and goals that a compensation scheme for the federal judiciary should serve. Finally, a proposal for a new system of compensation will be offered, which, it is hoped, is responsive to presently perceived needs.