I was just settling down to read to my dog Moxie the draft of the Detroit bailout bill. When we hit page 31, my dog turned to me and said, “Dad, didn’t you blog on this a while ago?” Yep, my dog was close to right (she is a dog after all). No, I had not predicted the collapse of the domestic automobile industry. But I had blogged on judicial salaries. Sure enough, on page 31 of the draft auto bailout bill is a provision to restore the 2009 fiscal year COLA for federal judges.
(b) TEMPORARY SUSPENSION OF PROHIBITION ON ANNUAL COST OF LIVING SALARY ADJUSTMENTS.—Pursuant to section 140 of Public Law 97–92, justices and judges of the United States are authorized during fiscal year 2009 to receive a salary adjustment in accordance with section 461 of title 28, United States Code.
Admittedly, judicial salaries have not been keeping pace with the private sector and there is no reasonable explanation for denying judges a raise while rewarding the rest of the federal workforce. Still, burying a judicial pay raise in a bailout bill for the auto industry highlights the absurdity of what has to happen to overcome the obstacles put up by a few members to something as routine as a COLA raise and makes clear the need to put judicial COLAs on the same autopilot as Congress uses for its own raises. It also suggests that if someone challenges the constitutionality of the bailout bill, they won’t get very far with federal judges or justices.