Scalia: pity the poor $165,000 a year jurist...
Is there anything less sympathetic than invoking the poor SDNY judge who suffers through a salary of $165,000?
Yes, me. I am considerably less sympathetic and slightly less well-compensated. However, while it's an injustice, it's not one that the federal government should be taking any action to correct.
But even if I were not nearly outearning Judge Scheindlin, and that's not much of an injustice given her body of work in recent years, she has something that lawyers do not have -- security.
Lawyers do not have lifetime appointments. Lawyers do not have pension plans, unless they make partner, in which case they don't need any sort of retirement plan except "Find a woman half my age. Marry. Rinse, lather, repeat."
Federal judges have the ability to be imprisoned without losing their job. Let us all recall the heroic Walter Nixon, who not only drew a paycheck while serving time in prison, but also managed to take his impeachment to the Supreme Court and evoke Rehnquist's fine "epistemological fog" argument in response to defining the word "try." That all happened before this guy lost his job for being a felon.
Federal judges have clerks. Oh, lord, what I would not give to have clerks as a junior associate. It's not enough to have junior associates beneath you, because let's face it, you didn't hire them, you will still have to do some of your work, and if you do an incompetent job, you'll start to receive suggestions that you open that restaurant you always have been talking about or become a professional riverboat gambler, anything to get you to quit your current job.
Federal judges work at the ultimate lifestyle firm -- the United States government. There are a lot of federal holidays, the hours are as reasonable as you want them to be so long as you can keep up with a speedy trial calendar
Federal judges have prestige. Any judge has some prestige, but federal judges carry a lot of weight. They get opportunities to witness things that your ordinary lawyer never will.
Federal judges could honestly do nothing and face little criticism for it. Let's face it, if a judge wanted to, they could just decide things from the bench, never research an issue or bother to ask their clerks to do it, they could just work on their putting game in chambers, meet with a few attorneys, and develop a dreadful reputation for arbitrariness and caprice. What happens? They serve as a judge until they die or retire. While a judge may care about his reputation, he or she certainly doesn't need to, they just need to stay one step away from being impeached. Let me assure you that's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind to get yourself impeached (see also Nixon, Walter).
You can make more in the private sector, it's true. But that's not the end of the story. If you're saying a SDNY judge doesn't earn enough to raise a family, you may be right (though there are a whole lot of people raising families in the Southern District of New York while making 10% of that, so you are, in fact, wrong). But now place that SDNY judge back in his job at Cravath or Jones Day...now he's making more as a seventh year associate or even junior partner. But he still can't raise a damn family, because his firm owns him 18 hours a day with an option for 6 more. When there's no telling whether you'll be home at all, let alone in time for a 9 p.m. dinner, you're going to have a hard time raising a family anywhere.
Will the judiciary have a hard time grabbing the top lawyers? Yes, sometimes. But it's not firms they're going to lose them to, it's sophistry in America's finest law schools. If you offer the opportunity to become a federal judge to any 1st-8th year litigator, my guess is that your answer is going to be yes 9 out of 10 times. And that other prick is wearing monogrammed shirt sleeves and has had the goal of making partner since he got kicked off the tee-ball team for wearing metal cleats.