Justice Department Asks Supreme Court to Review Appellate Ruling on Judges’ Pay
Before U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli first joined the Obama administration as an associate deputy attorney general in 2009, he was a partner at Jenner & Block, where average profits in 2008 were a robust $835,000 per partner, according to The American Lawyer. U.S. district court judges that year earned $169,300; federal appeals court judges made $179,500. Verrilli took a huge pay cut to serve in the Justice Department, most recently earning $165,300 as solicitor general, according to charts at the federal Office of Personnel Management. But Jenner’s profits were up to $1.55 million in 2011, so if Verrilli eventually decides to return to his old firm he’ll have a featherbed landing. Federal judges, meanwhile, have been stuck at the same pay since 2009: $174,000 for trial courts, $184,000 for circuit courts. Lifetime tenure was supposed to assure the independence of the federal judiciary, but for an increasing number of judges the gap between judicial pay and private practice makes the opportunity cost of sitting on the bench too high to bear.
The only reason I’m singling out Verrilli and his former firm is that the solicitor general is counsel of record in a new cert petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review an October 2012 appellate decision mandating raises for federal judges. In that ruling, known as Beer v. United States, a majority of the en banc Federal Circuit Court of Appeals held that under the Constitution’s Compensation Clause, Congress may not deny federal judges the cost-of-living adjustments they were promised in a 1989 law revamping judicial ethics rules. The cert petition puts Chief Justice John Roberts in a peculiar position: The Chief Justice has been an outspoken champion of judicial raises, but the Justice Department argues that the Federal Circuit’s decision in Beer contradicts Supreme Court precedent.