WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court won’t stop some federal judges from getting cost-of-living increases promised to them by Congress but never paid.
The high court on Monday refused to hear an appeal of a decision ordering the money to six federal judges. Congress in 1989 limited federal judges’ ability to earn money outside of their job, giving them instead automatic cost-of-living increases. But Congress withheld those cost-of-living increases in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2007 and 2010, while giving other federal employees their promised increases.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in October ordered Congress to pay the six federal judges who sued for back pay, saying the Constitution ordered that compensation for federal judges “shall not be diminished during their continuance in office.”
“Congress’ acts in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1999 constitute unconstitutional diminishments of judicial compensation,” the appeals court said in its October order, adding that money also was due that had been withheld in 2007 and 2010. “As relief, appellants are entitled to monetary damages for the diminished amounts they would have been paid if Congress had not withheld the salary adjustments.”
The justices refused to reconsider that decision.
The current salary for district court judges is $174,000, and for circuit court judges, $184,500. According to the American Bar Association, if all of the promised cost-of-living adjustments had been paid, circuit and district court judges’ salaries would be approximately $262,000 and $247,000. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Court adds that a district judge who has served since 1993 has “failed to receive a total of $283,100 in statutorily authorized but denied pay,” and that total would be even higher for circuit judges.
The appeals court’s decision only applied to those judges who sued in the Beer v. United States case. Another group of judges is trying to get a class-action lawsuit approved so they can get the missed salary adjustments for more than 1,000 other current and former federal judges who court papers say would have been eligible.