New York Court Rules Judicial Pay Freeze Unconstitutional

gavel legal

The New York State Court of Appeals ruled today that state legislators violated the State Constitution by bundling their pay with “policy initiative or legislative compensation adjustments,” which resulted in judges staying at the same pay level for the last 10 years.

New York Times: In a 5-to-1 decision, the Court of Appeals found that the legislative and executive branches had undermined the independence of the judicial branch by tying judges’ pay raises to unrelated legislation, including bills to raise lawmakers’ own salaries, thereby violating the separation of powers doctrine.

Judges’ pay was last raised in 1998. Since then, the court found, inflation has drained as much as a third of the value of judges’ salaries. During the same period, the court found, the judges’ workload has risen to 4.5 million cases each year, from 3.5 million.

The ruling, which combines three lawsuits filed by current and former state judges, does not order the Legislature to institute a raise, but leaves the possibility open for the future.

Of course, judicial salaries are always a topic of note, but the ruling comes at an interesting time. Earlier this year, Chief Justice John Roberts left his annual plea for higher pay out of his report in respect to the economic hardships of the rest of the country. As well, Judith Kaye, the former state chief judge who filed suit in April 2008 on behalf of New York’s judges retired from the bench for Skadden last February.

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