Judge Stephen Larson's Resignation Does Not Show that Federal Judges are Underpaid:

Federal District Judge Stephen Larson's recent resignation from the bench has led to renewed claims that federal judges are underpaid and should get a pay increase (see also here). Larson cited low pay as the main reason for his decision to resign. I can understand Larson's desire to for a higher salary. But the evidence strongly suggests that current pay rates are enough to maintain a high-quality judiciary. I have previously written several posts defending that view (see here, here, here, and here), and I remain unrepentant.

Currently, federal court of appeals judges make $179,500 per year and district judges $169,300; Supreme Court associate justices get $208,000 and the Chief Justice clocks in at $217,400. It is true that these salaries are less than what many judges could make as partners at big law firms. However, it's important to consider the total compensation of judges, not just their salaries. Once you factor in judges' imprssive nonsalary compensation - prestige, shorter working hours, interesting work, generous pensions, lifetime job security, and freedom from any need to deal with clients - the rewards of being a federal judge are quite competitive with the alternatives. That explains why so many talented lawyers lobby hard to get judgeships, and why judicial resignations are vanishingly rare. Between 1990 and 2005, only 21 federal judges resigned from the bench before reaching the retirement age, a rate of attrition less than 0.3% per year.

Judge Larson's early resignation made news in part because it is so extraordinarily unusual. He is also unusual for another reason: he has seven children. Unlike some of the commenters to Orin's post, I don't presume to tell Larson and and his wife how many children they should have. But it is obvious that a family with seven children faces more difficult financial challenges than one with the more typical one to three children. It is certainly possible to support seven children on a district judge's salary. I know several judges and legal scholars with that many or more children who seem to be doing fine on salaries comparable to the one Larson had. Still, it's not an easy task to support so many kids. However, very few prominent lawyers have as large a family as Judge Larson. Thus, even if judicial pay really is too low for his family, that still doesn't prove that we need a pay increase in order to ensure the overall quality of the federal judiciary.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Judge Stephen Larson's Resignation Does Not Show that Federal Judges are Underpaid:
  2. Federal Judge Resigns After 3 Years on Bench, Citing Low Judicial Salary: