U.S. District Judge Stephen G. Larson has announced that he's stepping down from the federal bench because he's not making enough money to support his family, which includes seven children all under the age of 18.
Larson's announcement on Tuesday that he would leave his seat in the Central District of California has reignited the ongoing debate on judicial salaries and their effect (or lack of effect) on the federal judiciary.
Chief Justice John Roberts of the US Supreme Court stated in 2006 that the low judicial salaries have "now reached a level of constitutional crisis." Federal judges received a small increase last year, but that hasn't
cleared the debate on the topic. The current pay scale has federal
district judges receiving $169,300; federal appeals court judges,
$179,500; Supreme Court justices, $208,100; and the chief justice,
Several scholars, and Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit, disagree
with the chief justice that "low" (after all, federal judges do have
higher-than-average incomes, though significantly lower than the
average income for law firm partners) salaries have affected the
ability of the judiciary to effectively carry out its responsibilities.
of salary increases argue that the low judicial pay makes it difficult
to entice the best legal minds away from lucrative private practices,
and forces some judges to choose the route that Judge Larson took and
resign while still in their prime in order to make more money.
of all, I'm just going to get it out of the way and say it: the guy has
seven kids. It's entirely possible that his resignation has more to do
with that choice in his life than the actual state of judicial
Or maybe it's a combination. A seat on the federal
bench comes with intangible benefits - like power, authority, respect
and the chance to leave a lasting imprint on the law. For many people,
those benefits (plus the great pension and health insurance plans) are
enough to keep them on the bench, despite the relatively low pay.
you have seven kids, however, those perks might not be enough to get
you by, especially when you're looking at the possibility of seven
college tuition bills.
believe judges deserve higher salaries. Most of them work tremendously
hard to manage their caseload and administer justice in an honorable
and ethical manner (although this blog doeslove to point out the outliers).
Plus, from a strictly practical standpoint, it's a good idea to pay
judges well so they aren't tempted to compromise their integrity for
some extra cash.
And speaking of hardworking judges, Larson's resignation leaves only
one judge in that division of the Central District, and the Central
District judges were already working on caseloads that were 42% higher
than the national average.
If people are unhappy about Larson's resignation, that judge might just be the unhappiest.