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Should We Pay Federal Circuit Judges More?

62 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2007 Last revised: 10 Jan 2011

Scott Baker

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Date Written: July 4, 2007


According to Chief Justice John Roberts, the most difficult issue facing the federal judiciary is low judicial salaries. His view, shared by other justices, many federal judges, the American Bar Association, and prominent law school deans, is that low salaries deter many of the most qualified candidates from considering the bench. This article examines the impact of judicial pay on the performance of the federal circuit courts. I exploit variation in the next best financial opportunity for most circuit judges - partnership in a regional law firm - to determine the impact of low judicial salaries. With high judicial salaries, judges give up little money as against their next best opportunity to take the bench. With low judicial salaries, judges give up a lot of money to take the bench. Comparison of the performance of judges with varying 'spreads' allows for a prediction about the likely impact of higher judicial salaries. The article finds that low judicial salaries do not impact votes in controversial cases, the speed of case disposition, citation practices to outside circuit authority, or the strength of judicial opinions. The article does find that low salaries lead to slightly fewer dissents. This effect, while statistically significant, is nonetheless practically trivial. In short, the article finds that judicial pay is largely irrelevant to the performance of the circuit courts.

Keywords: judicial pay

Suggested Citation

Baker, Scott, Should We Pay Federal Circuit Judges More? (July 4, 2007). UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 998395. Available at SSRN: or

Scott Baker (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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