Federal law links congressional pay with the salaries of federal judges. And while there's no need to hike salaries for members of Congress (we remember their notorious 1989 pay boost engineered in the dead of night by both party leaders), we believe U.S. District judges have been given a raw deal.
They've received just one cost-of-living boost since 1990 - and haven't had any raise in four years.
The problem of Congress forgoing a few reasonable raises, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist emphasizes, "cannot be overstated in terms of ... morale and quality."
Congressional and judges' pay should be de-linked. That's why Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., propose giving the judges a 9.6 percent catch-up hike and separating their cost-of-living hikes from congressional ones.
A federal judge's annual salary is $133,600 and Supreme Court justices receive $164,000 annually. Compare this to the fact that the deans of America's top law schools make up to $245,000 a year. Also, the annual pay for lawyers in some of the nation's top firms go as high as a half a million dollars a year.
It's a poor argument to say there's no need to pay federal judges more because we can always find people willing to serve at the current salary. Using the same logic, there are probably people willing to serve for $50,000 a year rather than for $133,600. But do we want jurists of that caliber?
We also think it's absurd for some to argue they're "curbing" federal spending by singling out one small group of career public servants. As this newspaper has long argued, out-of-control entitlements must be capped or reduced, and some Cabinet departments eliminated or downsized, in order to really rein in Big Government.
As Congress tarries, rightly fearful of raising members' pay, it inflicts a gross disservice upon the judges. That's why passage of the Hatch-Hyde redress proposal should be a priority.