In unusually blunt language, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy told a Senate committee today that salaries for federal judges are too low, that Congress should not cut the budget of the U.S. Marshal's service, and that the Supreme Court should not be required to allow in TV cameras.
Kennedy's appearance was unusual in several respects. First, justices normally appear only to testify about the budget for the judicial branch, not to comment on other issues. His appearance followed an invitation to the court, sent to the chief justice. Kennedy was the designated testifier.
Second, he gave what is apparently the first public expression about how the court, as a body, views the TV issue. A bill to allow cameras in the Supreme Court has the backing of Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., of the Judiciary Committee. But in appearing before the committee today, Kennedy said the justices often use oral argument to converse with each other, through the arguing lawyers. "Please don't introduce into the dynamics of our court the insidious temptation of trying to get a sound bite on TV. Please don't introduce that into our inter-collegial dynamics. We don't want that," Kennedy told the committee.
esSome members of the court have indicated in the past that they would favor TV coverage. Others (notably, Justice Souter, who said it would happen, "over my dead body") have been opposed. Today's statement by Kennedy is the first suggesting that the justices have discussed TV coverage among themselves and come to some sort of conclusion.
On salaries, he said that while federal judges certainly earn decent pay, averaging $160,000 a year, that's far lower than what good lawyers can make in private practice. "We simply must face the statistics. I'm losing my best judges, and not getting the highly qualified one at the other end," as young lawyers consider whether to accept judicial appointments.
"My Supreme Court clerks earn more a year after they leave here than I do," he said.
As for the administration's budget plan to cut spending for the U.S. Marshal's service, Kennedy said that's a bad idea, especially given recent attacks on judges. "I'm surprised that in this day and age a cut in Marshall's service would be proposed," he said.