Supreme Court urged by ABA to rule on law denying judicial COLAs

The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief recently urging the Supreme Court of the United States to rule in Beer vs. U.S. on whether Congressional denial of cost-of-living salary adjustments for federal judges compromises judicial independence, violating the Constitution.

Although the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 was intended to establish automatic annual COLAs for federal judges and other senior officials, Congress has refused to authorize these "non-discretionary" raises in six of the past 20 years, notes the brief.

While inflation-adjusted wages for the average American worker have risen 19.5 percent since 1969, salaries for federal district judges have dropped by 27 percent over the same period. "[J]udicial pay ... is now so low as to seriously compromise the independence that life tenure was intended to ensure and ... is insufficient to attract and retain well-qualified jurists from diverse economic and societal backgrounds," the ABA says.

The brief states it should not be interpreted to reflect the views of judicial members of the ABA, and positions it expresses were not circulated to nor endorsed by any council member of the ABA Judicial Division before adoption.

Published: Thu, Jul 1, 2010