January 1st, 2010
03:10 PM ET
13 years ago

Chief Justice Roberts has little to say at year's end

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/24/art.getty.john.roberts.jpg caption="Chief Justice John Roberts on Thursday offered an unusually brief summary of the problems facing the U.S. court system."]Washington (CNN) - A year ago, U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts said he was "tired" of urging lawmakers to live up to their pledge to raise judges' salaries. No increase has come, but in his latest annual year-end report released Thursday, the head of the federal judiciary found little to talk about, offering an unusually brief summary of the problems facing the courts.

"Many of those needs remain to be addressed," said Roberts. "This year, however, when the political branches are faced with so many difficult issues, and when so many of our fellow citizens have been touched by hardship, the public might welcome a year-end report limited to what is essential: The courts are operating soundly."

Roberts and his predecessor, William Rehnquist, regularly used their Supreme Court position to urge action on salaries, the increasing workload of the courts, and increased security in the nation's courtrooms. Recent year-end reports have contained more pointed criticism of congressional inaction on the salary dispute, but Roberts' brief comments this year were especially muted. As chief justice, he has administrative oversight over the entire federal court system. He is also the highest paid federal judge.

Last year the 54-year-old chief justice wrote, "I must renew the judiciary's modest petition: Simply provide cost-of-living increases that have been unfairly denied. We have done our part - it is long past time for Congress to do its."

Those so-called COLAs were approved in May, but not an overall salary increase. House and Senate committees have approved a 30-percent pay hike, but Congress as a whole has not acted on the proposal. The last time judges received a substantial pay increase was 1991, but they have received periodic increases designed to keep pace with inflation.

Some members of Congress are cool to the idea of increased pay for federal judges - among the highest paid federal employees. They also enjoy lifetime job security, and can retire at 65 with full salary after 15 years on the bench. Congressional salaries are roughly even with those of trial, or district court judges.

In a reflection of the sagging economy, Roberts noted bankruptcy filings this year were up 35 percent over 2008, to more than 1.4 million.

Immigration courts also saw a record-level number of cases, up 21 percent from last year. Roberts said the growth resulted mostly from improper entry by aliens and visa fraud. Almost 27,000 people faced serious federal immigration charges this year. Three-quarters of those defendants were charged with illegal re-entry after being previously kicked out of the U.S.

One issue the chief justice did not raise in his report was the slow pace of filling judicial vacancies by the Obama administration. The president has nominated only 30 people for the federal bench, winning confirmation of only 10 judges - three on the appeals courts, and seven district court judges. There are 99 current vacancies as of Thursday, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S Courts.

By comparison, President George W. Bush had 22 judges confirmed in his first year.

The slow pace can be traced to the Republican minority in the Senate, which has successfully blocked floor votes for a number of pending judicial nominations. Such vacancies in the long run can create backlogs in hearing cases, and strain financial and manpower resources.

Here are the annual salaries of federal judges with proposed increases from congressional committees:

–Chief Justice John Roberts: current $223,500, proposed increase to $279,900
–Other Supreme Court justices: current $213,900, proposed increase to $267,900
–Appeals or Circuit judges: current $184,500, proposed increase to $231,100
–District court judges: current $174,000, proposed increase to $218,000

Filed under: John Roberts • Supreme Court
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Jamie

    "Cost of living increase"? Is that really necessary, when they are earning six-figure salaries?

    I would be happy earning a third of what Justice Roberts makes.

    January 1, 2010 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  2. Joe the plumber

    Johnny boy knew what the pay was when he took the job, just another whiny incompetent Republican.

    January 1, 2010 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  3. valwayne

    Justice Roberts is a smart man. He didn't say a word about the fact that the federal courts will soon be clogged with Circus trials in 2010 for the murdering terrorists who planned 9/11. I wonder what he really thinks about Obama spending hundreds of millions on the Circus trials when the judges could probably all get their pay increases for a fraction of the cost?

    January 1, 2010 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  4. Donald in CA

    Judge Roberts even blew Obama's swearing in, so why expect any thing out of him.

    January 1, 2010 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  5. ccalgop1

    They deserve an increase.

    January 1, 2010 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  6. Jayson

    It is pretty ridiculous when you take into consideration the fact that the president after leaving office will still be paid the equivalent salary of a cabinet member for the rest of his life after only 4 years of service. These men are expected to be among the best of the best lawyers and should be paid more in line with that designation.

    January 1, 2010 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  7. Sheila

    Well 30% is approximately 10 times the average pay increase for the average American. Many Americans have not had pay increases in several years, with some having to take pay CUTS to keep their jobs.

    What an arrogant system we have in this country. I do believe that certain jobs call for highly educated talent and that those who have the talent and skills should be compensated appropriately, but 30%?
    Ridiculous. Especially in light of the issues of law that are not being properly addressed, such as the constitutionality of allowing imigrants to come here and educate their children, receive medical care and social security off the hard working Americans tax dollar.

    Sorry folks, I can't feel badly for people who make salaries in exess of 200k/year not getting an increase last year/this year. I didn't get one either.

    Maybe we could all get together with Obama on the WH lawn and cry into our beers.

    January 1, 2010 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  8. DemocraticVoterMaryland

    Last time, I heard, all jurists or lawyers volunteer to become to Judges and go through the vetting process!

    I am not aware of any lawyer being forced(!) to become a State or lower court Federal judge, much less, a U.S. Supreme Court judge (and appointed for life, no less)!

    If your salaries, and the honor of serving the United States of America, isn't high enough for you, then, I believe, that any and all judges should resign their current positions and go into corporate law, and make several times the money you make now.

    So, bye-bye, to any and all of you, "Justices", and good riddance!

    January 1, 2010 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  9. E. Elliott

    I am a career service government employee and we have not even got a partial cost of living increase in 3 years. Next year may be cuts. Mr chief judge, zip it – you loser. Naturally as a Repog he is concerned first with how much $$ he can make. His increase is more than I take home.

    We do need more judges, but the same bunch blocking the other nominiations would never allow it.

    January 1, 2010 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  10. Donkey Party

    Typical Republican. The country is hurting, and he wants more money for himself.

    January 1, 2010 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  11. jp,michigan

    Justice Roberts states the need of pay increase. Too bad he can't live in the shoes of those who are unemployeed, lost their homes and feed their children. Enjoy what you have and pray for those who go without!

    January 1, 2010 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  12. leon

    When the median income of Americans is under $50,000, Roberts is reflecting the same greed of Wall Street. He works hard, during his short work year, and has incurred much cost in financing his education. However, he cannot see the effects of his judgments on most Americans who live in peril daily because of the economic inequities in this country today. Let him live on the median income for a year and then see how it affects his judgments. Or, let him continue to favor the wealthy and strive to join them in their exploitation of the workers in their greed for excess wealth.

    Some day the tax payers should be allowed to have a say on congressional and other government pay. After all, no other workers get to set their own wages and benefits.

    January 1, 2010 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  13. hongli

    He's still thinking how he botch the swearing in of President Obama.

    January 1, 2010 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  14. Brunton

    Cost of living has nothing to do with a salary that's over $200,000. Just one more example of Republican hypocrisy and elitist entitlement.

    January 1, 2010 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  15. GI Joe

    What's he supposed to say? 6 Catholic judges, we're being ruled by a POPE, not a democracy.

    January 1, 2010 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  16. Dean

    Cost of living increases for government employees, the military and now judges want one. I thought the powers that be just told the senior citizens that there has been no inflation and therefore COLAs for them are not coming for social security. It seems that the government is never on the same page with common folk America.

    January 1, 2010 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  17. CNN in the censoring buisness..shameful! He LIVES so ALL man can know peace and love!

    It's a big boat....no raises for the citizens...and now....the elite..imagine!

    January 1, 2010 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  18. Proud American

    He didn't have much to say that made sense during the year.

    January 1, 2010 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  19. Aaron

    Cry me a river. We've got massive unemployment, escalating tax burdens, and 40 million uninsured Americans. But, it is unthinkful not to give raises to a group of 12 political appointees who "work" maybe 2 full months a year.

    January 1, 2010 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  20. krakow

    He is just saving his energy for the impending Obama impeachment.

    A president who has such a gaggle of thugs and criminals around him will eventually find himself in Federal prison.

    January 1, 2010 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  21. AJ

    Roberts is a revolting symptom of a judicial system that’s way too partisan. The need to take politics out of our courts has never been more strikingly evident than in the Roberts court.

    January 1, 2010 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  22. Ted from Calif.

    Maybe Roberts is wise to not complain about judge's salaries when 15% to 20% of Americans are unemployed. Besides, judge's salaries are not so bad when compared to the earnings of middle income Americans.

    January 1, 2010 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  23. Albert K. L.A., CA

    This guy casnnot even do recite the President's oath of Office without scrrewing it up and he wants a pay raise?

    January 1, 2010 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  24. Keith in Austin

    Congressional Democrats have already spent the requested judicial Cost of Living Adjustments on their porkulous stimulous fiasco and pay increases for themselves!

    January 1, 2010 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |