Midyear Meeting 2009
What’s on the Federal Judiciary’s Wish List for the New President and Congress?
Posted Feb 13, 2009 5:08 PM CDT
By James Podgers
The federal judiciary has put together a wish list of issues on which it hopes to get action from the new Congress and the new presidential administration. But the judiciary’s new set of priorities has a familiar ring to it.
Speaking on Friday at a program being held in Boston during the 2009 ABA Midyear Meeting, James C. Duff, the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, said the federal judiciary will raise four key issues with the Obama administration and Congress.
No. 1, said Duff, is salary restoration for federal judges. Duff said his choice of the word “restoration” makes an important distinction from the notion of actual raises because salaries for judges haven’t even kept with increases in the cost of living in recent years.
That’s why one of the other priorities for the federal judiciary is to receive a specific cost-of-living adjustment from Congress for 2009.
Nos. 3 and 4 are to reduce the number of vacancies on the federal bench—which now stands at 62—and to improve general relations with the other two branches of government.
All of those issues have been on the table with Congress and recent presidential administrations, but Duff said circumstances in Washington might be favorable for progress.
“We have had encouraging contacts with the new administration” on long-range salary issues, Duff said. “We have a lot of friends who are close to the president,” he said, referring to appointments to the leadership of the Department of Justice and in the office of the counsel to the president. But, he added, “Our relationship with Congress needs work.”
Duff noted that federal judges are the only federal employees who have not received a cost-of-living adjustment for 2009. Congress is required to act affirmatively to authorize COLAs for federal judges, a procedural matter that the Administrative Office would like changed, he said.
Federal judicial salaries could have crucial implications for the Obama administration because it may affect the diversity and quality of people willing to be appointed, said Kenneth W. Starr, a former federal circuit court judge and U.S. solicitor general who now is dean of Pepperdine University School of Law.
For the judiciary to get “bullied and picked on by Congress is nothing new,” Starr said, and the perception is that “the judiciary can’t fight back. But the judiciary can fight back, and should. The judiciary needs friends, and it should seek friends.”