Erin Geiger Smith writes for Thomson Reuters:
Pay raises for federal judges is a cause célèbre whose top advocate is the nation's top judge, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts. And, back in October, the movement for higher judicial pay achieved a big victory. As On The Case reported, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the six judges who brought a case demanding their authorized raises were entitled to cost-of-living pay increases that would bump up their base salary by about $25,000. Though that ruling was limited to those six plaintiffs, we noted at the time that other judges looking for similar pay increases could simply bring their own suits and cite the Federal Circuit ruling.
Seven additional federal judges, including Marsha Berzon of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and Allyson Duncan of the 4th Circuit, did just that late last week, filing a class action in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The proposed class would include the more than 1,000 federal judges who have served during the past six years. The suit, filed by attorneys at Susman Godfrey, dedicates more than a page to the October Federal Circuit opinion, styled Beer v. United States.
The Federal Circuit, sitting en banc, held that federal judges were entitled to damages in the amount of pay raises they should have received, under relevant law, since 2003. (The statute of limitations bars any recovery from before then.) The appeals court said damages should incorporate base salary increases that should have been effected under a 1989 ethics law but were blocked by Congress in certain years.
As the new complaint explains, the Beer ruling noted that the 1989 Act "ensured that real judicial salary would not be reduced in the face of the elimination of outside income and the operation of inflation." It also said that future Congresses could not renege on that commitment. If that sounds simple, well, it's far from it. Our earlier report walked through the quagmire that Congress created in granting and then rescinding (in piecemeal fashion) the automatic raises, as well as the Federal Circuit's need to comply with a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court opinion, U.S. v. Will, that concluded Congress had the power to block judicial pay raises in certain circumstances. Suffice to say, Beer was a rather complicated decision.
Luckily for the new judicial plaintiffs, however, Beer is currently the law of the land. . . .