The Judiciary Fund: A Modest Proposal that the Bar Give to Judges What Congress Will Not Let Them Earn


Underpaid federal judges have always had ways to increase their income. The first resort (other than quitting for some other, higher-paying job) is a law granting judges a raise. But reputable minds differ on the proper scale and form of judicial pay increases, and raises have been low and slow in coming. Individual judges have occasionally taken the initiative to top off the family budget, albeit with mixed results. Judges are, however, not the only ones who have stepped up. Members of the bar have sometimes professed a willingness to contribute to the sustenance of the bench. Which brings us to the Taney Fund. When Chief Justice Roger Taney died in 1864 he left a tiny estate and two daughters who were still his dependents. In February 1871, Taney's former colleagues noticed that his daughters had fallen on hard times. They held a meeting of the bar of the Supreme Court at which a committee was formed to raise funds to support the daughters. But the main purpose of the meeting probably was to build support for judicial salary increases, and it seems to have worked. In March 1871, a big salary increase for federal judges became law. Which brings us to the Judiciary Fund. According to the American Bar Association, judges are in bad shape these days - seemingly as bad as they were in 1871: Judicial pay has reached such levels of inadequacy that it threatens the quality of justice in our nation. In the spirit of '71, the modern bar should come to the aid of our federal judiciary. $44 million is the rough price of increases Congress is looking at now. The money is there. All that remains is a commitment to support the judiciary and a way to channel the money to the judges.