Tony Mauro has a fascinating look at what went on in Congress today when a vote to give the federal judiciary a Cost-of-living adjustment for 2009 failed.
“Wrong time. Wrong place,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, (D-Mo.) exclaimed on the Senate floor Dec. 11. “We have families all over this nation that are scared today, that aren’t buying Christmas presents. Federal judges get lifetime appointments and they never take a dime’s cut in pay. They die with the same salary they have today.” After that, it was little surprise that senators supporting the auto bailout began the process of pulling the judicial provision out of the bill. They did not want to jeopardize any much-needed votes. But then the whole thing collapsed anyway.
So, federal judges will now have another distinction besides life tenure: They are the only federal employees who will begin 2009 without a COLA.
Oh dear. I can see why it would be easy for Congress to ignore federal judges. A lifetime-appointment gives them incentive to stay on the bench but for most of them, going into private practice would be incredibly lucrative. We’ve had examples in the last few years where judges have left the bench and listed pay as a major reason. Judges of the caliber that make the federal judiciary socialize in circles what include lawyer-friends who are almost certainly making several times what they make. While positions on the Supreme Court or high-level seats on the Court of Appeals have a certain altruistic appeal, its hard to blame district judges and court of appeals judges for heading back to private practice.