Salaries of justices Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Compensation received by the justices for performing their Supreme Court duties.

The Judiciary Act of 1789Judiciary Act of 1789 allowed the chief justice to draw a salarySalaries;chief justice of $4,000, while the associates received $3,500. Salaries were not increased again until 1819. The $500 difference in salaries between the chief justice and associates continued until 1969, after which the difference was increased to compensate for the chief justice’s increasing administrative obligations.

Congress, which is in charge of adjusting the salaries of the justices, did not increase salaries for long periods of time during the 1800’s and 1900’s. Raises occurred more often after 1955. The Ethics Reform Act of 1989 set the chief justice’s 1990 salary at $124,000 and the associates’ salaries at $118,600, a raise of 7.9 percent. In 1991 salaries were raised another 25 percent. Beginning in 1992 and continuing with subsequent years, salaries reflected a cost-of-living adjustment.

Over the years, several judges have publicly voiced complaints regarding their salaries. In 1816 Justice Joseph Story argued that the “cost of living had doubled and that the expenses of the justices had quadrupled” since 1789. Salary was a minor consideration in Justice Benjamin R. Curtis’s decision to leave the Court, and Justice Salmon P. Chase recommended that the court reduce the number of justices so the salaries for the remaining justices could be raised. Congress did reduce the size of the Court but did not adjust salaries. In 1989 Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist made history by testifying before Congress regarding salaries of federal judges and justices.


Salaries;pensions[pensions]No law provided justices pension benefits. In 1869 Congress enacted legislation permitting justices to retire with benefits at age seventy with ten years of service on the judiciary. Seven justices retired between 1869 and 1921. Over the next six decades, fourteen more justices retired. Nine justices retired between 1969 and 1999. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed his court-packing plan in 1937, Congress liberalized pensionSalaries;pensions[pensions] benefits for federal judges. Under a new law, judges could retired as early as age sixty-five if they met certain length of service requirements.

Judiciary Act of 1789

Court-packing plan

Resignation and retirement

Categories: History