Judges Have Lives Too

The folks over at the Sentencing Law and Policy blog (creatively named after a textbook published with the same name and written by the same authors) have broken the news of Federal District Judge Paul Cassell’s retirement. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a major issue, but the WSJ law blog highlights the most important part of his decision:

And finally, I would be less than completely candid if I did not mention the uncertainty surrounding judicial pay as a factor in my decision. With three talented children approaching college years, it has been difficult for my wife and me to make financial plans. As you know, this year federal judges have yet to receive even a cost of living pay increase. Your much-appreciated proposal to raise judicial salaries has yet to be acted on by Congress. I would like to ensure that my children will have the same educational opportunities that I had. How to achieve that within the constraints on current judicial pay is more than a difficult task. My wife and I have concluded that we may not be able to do what we have always planned to do unless I make some changes.

I admire Judge Cassell for spending the last 5 years on the Court and I understand his decision. Despite the recent attention drawn to the subject of judicial salaries, Congress hasn’t done a good job of increasing the salaries it hands out to judges. Judge Cassell’s predicament isn’t unique but his decision to accept a presumably higher paying job in both the private and public sectors is an unusually public example of the thought process that many practicing lawyers must go through in order to weigh the opportunity to perform on the federal bench. Any person with sufficient qualifications to sit on the federal bench is assuredly qualified to made significantly more money in the private sector. The only way for the Federal Judiciary to attract the individuals at the top of the legal stratosphere is to increase the pay that it offers judges at all levels.

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