Salary for a Supreme Court Justice

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Regarding the salary for a Supreme Court Justice, information from The Administrative Office of the United States Courts reports that the annual compensation of the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court is $267,000.  The eight associate justices on the court make, on average, $255,300 each year. According to data provided by the United States Department of Labor, their salaries represent more than two times the judicial profession’s yearly median salary of $109,940. The median wage indicates that half of the judges have incomes that are lower than this amount and that the other half have incomes that are higher.

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The salaries offered by the federal government are likewise the highest paid among state Supreme Courts. The typical annual salary for state chief justices is $175,600, while the median salary for associate justices is $170,000.

What is the Supreme Court?

While we talk about the salary for a Supreme Court Justice, we need to talk about The United States Supreme Court, also known as the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS for short) is the highest court that can be reached through the federal appeals process. The members of this body are typically referred to as justices. It has the last appellate jurisdiction over all cases heard in federal courts in the United States, as well as over cases heard in state courts that involve a question of federal law. 

Additionally, it has original jurisdiction over a limited number of cases, namely “all Cases Affecting Ambassadors, Other Public Ministers, and Consuls, as well as Those in Which a State Shall Be Party.” Judicial review is the ability of the court to declare a statute unconstitutional if it is found to violate a provision of the Constitution. This power is vested in the court. In addition to this, the court has the authority to overturn presidential instructions if they violate either the Constitution or a statute. On the other hand, it can only act within the context of a case that is being considered in an area of law over which it has authority. The court has concluded that it does not have the authority to address non-justiciable political problems; but, it may decide cases that have political implications.

supreme court justice photo
Photo by Dave Hamster

Supreme Court Justice Requirements

Before being considered for appointment or election to a high court, prospective justices are required to have experience practicing law. To obtain a law degree, one must first complete four years of undergraduate studies before continuing on to complete three years of legal education. Additionally, more than half of the states mandate that justices participate in some form of ongoing education. In addition to having an education, justices need to be able to reason critically and have the capacity to put aside their own personal convictions in order to make conclusions based on legal precedent.

They have to be able to quickly weigh a large number of data and come to fair choices. The ability to listen carefully is essential for justices, as they are required to pay great attention to the arguments presented by all sides. In order to sort through the evidence, the justices must go through a significant volume of documents, and these and other factors is how the salary for a Supreme Court Justice is earned. Additionally, justices need to have strong writing skills to ensure that the reasons behind a judgement is communicated in a way that all sides can comprehend and accept.

How Long Can a Supreme Court Justice Stay in Office?

Unlike the United States Presidenta Supreme Court Justice does not have a time in office limit.

In fact, the only way Supreme Court justices can be removed from office is by Congress through the impeachment process. This provision is found in Article Three, Section 1 of the Constitution, and it states that justices “shall hold their offices during good behavior.” This provision is understood to mean that justices may serve for the remainder of their lives, until death; in addition, the phrase is understood to mean that justices may serve until death. Good behavior tenure was chosen by the people who drafted the Constitution to limit the power to remove justices from their positions and to ensure the independence of the judiciary.

The timing of vacancies is subject to uncertainty due to the fact that justices serve for an extended period of time. There have been times when vacancies have occurred in rapid succession, such as in September 1971, when Hugo Black and John Marshall Harlan II both resigned within a matter of days of each other. This was the time when there was the least amount of time between vacancies in the history of the Supreme Court. There are instances in which a significant amount of time passes between vacancies, such as the 11 years that passed between the retirement of Harry Blackmun and the death of William Rehnquist. This span of time was the second longest in the court’s annals when it came to the number of years that passed between vacancies. A new justice is appointed to the Supreme Court approximately once every two years on average.

There is no provision in the Constitution that allows for the removal of a justice who is permanently unable to serve due to a sickness or injury but is unable (or unwilling) to resign from their position. Samuel Chase was the only justice to ever be removed from office due to impeachment; this occurred in 1804. The House of Representatives voted to impeach him with eight separate articles; nevertheless, he was found not guilty by the Senate and continued to serve as president until his death in 1811. His term ended in 1811. Since then, there has not been a single attempt to impeach a current justice that has made it any further than referral to the Judiciary Committee. (For instance, William O. Douglas was the subject of hearings twice, once in 1953 and again in 1970. Abe Fortas resigned in 1969 while proceedings were being organized, yet he was the subject of hearings both times.)

salary for supreme court justice

In spite of the variations, all presidents other than four have been able to select at least one justice to the Supreme Court. William Henry Harrison passed away just one month after he was inaugurated as president, but his successor, John Tyler, still managed to get one appointment in before he left office. In a similar vein, Zachary Taylor only served as president for 16 months before passing away, but his successor, Millard Fillmore, nonetheless managed to nominate someone to the Supreme Court before the end of his term. Because of a reduction in the size of the court, Andrew Johnson, who became president after Abraham Lincoln was killed, was not given the opportunity to select a justice. This was due to the fact that the court had been reduced in size. Only one other person who was elected president has ever departed office after serving at least one full term without having the opportunity to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court. That person was Jimmy Carter. During their first terms in office, Presidents James Monroe, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and George W. Bush all served their complete terms without having the opportunity to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court; however, they were all able to do so during their subsequent terms. There has never been a situation in which a president who has served more than one full term has not been presented with at least one appointment chance.

We discussed in this article the salary for a Supreme Court Justice along with the requirements and the unique features of the office that it entails.

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