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S, Salaries of the Justices.

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall, James W. Ely Jr., Joel B. Grossman

From: The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (2nd Edition)

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall

From: Oxford Constitutions (http://oxcon.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved. Subscriber: null; date: 07 June 2023

Salaries of the Justices.

To fortify judicial independence, the Constitution forbids diminution of judicial compensation, but is silent about compensation erosion caused by inflation and taxation from which the justices enjoy no immunity. Also unmentioned are salary levels or increases, subjects entangled in economics and politics. The *Judiciary Act of 1789 pegged the *chief justice’s pay at $4,000 and the associates’ at $3,500, thereby creating a $500 differential that persisted until 1969. By 2005 the difference grew to $8,900, reflecting the chief justice’s disproportionate administrative responsibilities.[(See chief justice, office of the)]

Congress increased court salaries at long intervals during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. After 1964 raises occurred more frequently. Nevertheless, salary increases face obstacles: linkage of interbranch pay levels to achieve parity or near parity with those of the speaker of the House and vice president but not to incomes derived from lucrative law practices. The justices have lobbied against politically induced legislative inertia for higher salaries, none more vigorously nor more persistently than Chief Justice William Rehnquist, an endeavor sometimes aided since the 1950s by bipartisan interbranch salary commissions.

The congressional compensation power was wielded in 1964 to express displeasure with the Warren Court’s constitutional jurisprudence. Congress then increased judicial pay but reduced the prevailing salary differential between Supreme Court justices and both *lower federal court judges and members of Congress. In United States v. Will (1980), the Supreme Court held unconstitutional congressional freezing of automatic increased cost-of-living salary adjustments authorized in 1975 that had previously vested. Congress retaliated in 1981 (P. L. 97-92) by barring automatic cost-of-living salary adjustments (COLAs) but specifically authorized six such increments between 1993 and 2005 that brought the chief justice’s salary to $208,100, equal to that received by the vice president and the speaker of the House of Representatives, and those of the associate justices to $199,200. Yet between 1969 and 2002, Supreme Court justices experienced a loss of more than one-third of their purchasing power, a loss enhanced by the 1989 Ethics Reform Act’s cap on income derived from extrajudicial activities and by prohibition of honoraria.

Peter G. Fish