How would you feel if you worked for the same employer for 15 years and never got a raise?
Unfortunately, for the men and women we elect to serve us on the Michigan Supreme Court, this is their reality. The salary for a justice has been frozen since 2002.
I recently came across a Mackinac Center for Public Policy blog, “State Should Review Supreme Court Pay.” Now, rarely are MAJ and the Mackinac Center on the same side of an issue, but this happens to be the exception.
Prior to 2002, the State Officers Compensation Commission—the public body that recommends salary rates for certain public officials—determined justices’ pay. Voters passed a constitutional amendment that year requiring legislative approval of future salary recommendations for justices made by the compensation commission. For past 15 years, the commission has repeatedly called for pay increases. Each time, the legislature has refused.
The 15-year salary freeze is the longest such freeze in the nation. Over that time, compensation for federal judges has kept pace with inflation and continues to rise with the cost of living. The way the system is set up in Michigan, judges in lower courts may soon make more than Michigan Supreme Court justices.
If this trend continues, it will be increasingly more difficult to encourage qualified candidates to run for the Michigan Supreme Court and keep experienced justices from leaving the bench for more lucrative opportunities elsewhere.
The amount of money a justice makes may sound trivial to some. But put yourself in their robe. Would you accept a job or stick with an employer knowing your salary could stay the same for 15 years or longer?
It’s time for the legislature to do the right thing. Heed to the recommendation of the commission and give our Michigan Supreme Court justices a long overdue raise.