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Biggert, Schiff Introduce Judicial Compensation Bill

Location: Washington, DC

Biggert, Schiff Introduce Judicial Compensation Bill

Washington, DC - Congressional Caucus on the Judicial Branch Co-chairs Judy Biggert (R-IL-13) and Adam Schiff (D-CA-29) yesterday introduced legislation to reform the outdated compensation system for federal judges. The goal of the bill, the Federal Judicial Fairness Act of 2006, is to keep highly-qualified, experienced judges from leaving the bench because of current pay inequities.

Currently, salary increases for justices and judges are linked with the salaries of Members of Congress. On several occasions when Congress has voted against giving itself a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), federal judges also have been denied an increase. This has occurred in five of the last 13 years.

"Individuals seek and accept a nomination to the bench because they want to serve their country. But this does not mean they should forgo fair compensation for their work," said Biggert, a former probate lawyer who began her legal career as clerk to the Honorable Luther M. Swygert, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. "This legislation is about more than just fairly compensating our nation's federal judiciary. It's about ensuring that those individuals who sit on the federal bench do so because they are among the nation's greatest legal minds."

Several reports over the last few years specifically have recommended that salary adjustments for Members and judicial officials be determined separately. In 2003, a report by the National Commission on the Public Service (the Volcker Commission), cited "the compelling need to recruit and retain the best people possible" to serve on the federal judiciary and urged Congress to move on "an immediate and substantial increase in judicial salaries," since "the lag in judicial salaries has gone on too long, and the potential for the diminished quality in American jurisprudence is now too large."

The Federal Judicial Fairness Act of 2006, H.R. 5014, will address this issue and restore equity in federal judicial salaries. Specifically, the bill will:

* Terminate the linkage of congressional COLAs to judicial pay increases, so that Congress's decision to deny itself pay raises will not affect federal judges;

* Increase the salaries of all Federal judges by 16.5 percent to partially make up for the decline in real pay for judges over the last three decades. In 2003, both President Bush and the late Chief Justice Rehnquist agreed that a pay adjustment of at least 16.5 percent was necessary; and

* Provide Federal judges with annual COLAs based on the Employee Cost Index, the index already used by the federal government to keep federal salaries in line with inflation.

Biggert and Schiff are Co-founders and Co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on the Judicial Branch. The Caucus works to improve the relationship between the legislative and judicial branches and focuses on issues that directly impact the Judiciary. Former United States Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and Justice David Souter have met with members of the Judicial Caucus over the past two years. The caucus will meet in May with Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr.

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