Higher judicial pay to cost $1.2 billion over next decade

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WASHINGTON — Recent court decisions that require the government to restore cost-of-living increases for federal judges will cost taxpayers more than $1 billion over the coming decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The finding highlights the cost of lump-sum pay hikes of at least $25,000 a year ordered after federal courts ruled in 2012 and 2013 that Congress may not withhold automatic pay raises given to judges under a 1989 law.

Congress denied the judges the pay hikes on six occasions dating to 1995 while denying lawmakers their cost-of-living raises. Lawmakers didn’t want judges to make more than they do.

But two courts ruled that Congress violated the Constitution’s judicial compensation clause, which says that judges pay can’t be cut while they are in office. They were given retroactive pay increases that raised the pay for a district court judge from $174,000 a year — the same salary paid to rank and file senators and House members — to $199,000. The pay for Supreme Court associate justices went from almost $214,000 to $244,000. Judicial pensions also went up and back pay totaling about $250 million was provided to make up for the denied salary increases.

The pay of most federal judges is mandatory spending, meaning it is not subject to the annual appropriations process. That accounts for about $1 billion of CBO’s $1.2 billion estimate of the cost to increase judicial salaries.

The 1989 law gave lawmakers and judges automatic pay hikes in exchange for giving up honoraria for speeches. It was heralded as an improvement, but political pressures have led lawmakers to deny themselves their cost-of-living pay hike about a dozen times dating back to 1993. Congress hasn’t had a pay raise since 2009.

ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press

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