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Senate Proposal to Allow Federal Judges to Accept Speaking Fees Favors “Rental of Judges” not “Rule of Law”


Sept. 14, 2000

Senate Proposal to Allow Federal Judges to Accept Speaking Fees Favors “Rental of Judges” not “Rule of Law”

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

Hidden in the Senate Appropriations Committee-approved bill to fund the State, Commerce and Justice departments is a provision that would put our federal judges in debt to wealthy special interests. As a supplement to their salaries?–?which range from $141,300 to $181,400 — federal judges would be allowed to accept unlimited “honoraria” for appearances in corporate board rooms, posh resorts and other places.

For years, special interests doled out thousands of dollars in individual honoraria to members of Congress, the executive branch and the judiciary, seeking to secure special relationships and favors at the expense of average Americans. Finally, in 1989, Congress reacted to public outrage and abolished this harmful scam. But, according to press reports, Senate Republicans led by chief Republican Senate campaign fundraiser Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are trying to pry open another door for monied interests to influence government policy.

We call on all members of Congress, the Administration and the Judiciary to denounce this proposal and to refuse to support any legislation containing it. Americans believe in the rule of law, not the rental of judges by the wealthy and powerful.

If Congress believes federal judges are underpaid, then it should raise their pay from the Treasury and not from wealthy corporations, many of whom regularly have litigation before the federal judiciary. Allowing federal judges to mine payments from special interests invites conflicts of interest and will only undermine citizen confidence in our judicial system. The Federal Judicial Conference should immediately renounce this underhanded attempt to circumvent existing law.