Editorial: Don't cheap out justice, or justices
The axiom "you get what you pay for" is as true of judges as it is for a suit of clothes.
Michigan hasn't given its Supreme Court justices a pay raise in 19 years. That makes it hard to attract good candidates to run for the court, and to hold them once they're elected.
Chief Justice Bridget McCormack sent a letter to the State Officers Compensation Committee last week urging them to recommend at least a 10 percent pay hike for the seven members of the court.
It's a reasonable request, and one the commission should honor and the Legislature approve.
Justices are paid $164,610 a year. That's not much more than the salary of state Court of Appeals judges, who get $160,640, and have received regular pay raises. Nationwide, pay for state Supreme Court justices averages more than $176,000.
The salary for a Supreme Court justice in Michigan is less than what a first year lawyer at a top law firm can command.
Most of the justices are making great personal sacrifices to sit on the court. While they don't expect to earn what they could in a private practice, they should be fairly compensated.
The pay panel has recommended salary increases for justices in the past, but the Legislature has not approved them.
Supreme Court salaries are tied to lawmaker pay — they rise in tandem. And since legislators are reluctant to hike their own pay, fearing a backlash from votes, the justices never see a boost.
As the chief justice noted, nobody runs for the Supreme Court for the pay. But keeping salaries so low makes it tougher for justices to stay on the court when other opportunities arise.
The court has lost three justices over the past few years to the private sector before their eight-year terms were up.
During the period that justice pay has been frozen, the average pay for state workers has risen 40 percent.
The case for a pay raise for Supreme Court justices is clear.
Michigan needs competent and independent justices, and to get those the job needs to appeal to the brightest legal talent.
Higher salaries alone won't accomplish that goal, but they will help.