McLEAN, Va. – The federal judiciary will increasingly fail to attract the best-qualified lawyers if judges' pay doesn't improve, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Wednesday.
"If you become a federal judge in the Southern District of New York (Manhattan), you can't raise a family on what the salary is," Scalia said during a speech to the Northern Virginia Technology Council.
Federal judges earned salaries of $165,200 in 2006. Scalia said lawyers can easily earn significantly more by staying in the private sector.
The result, Scalia said, is that the judiciary will increasingly appeal only to those who have made a career out of public-sector work.
"More and more, we cannot attract the really bright lawyers. It's too much of a sacrifice," he said.
Scalia spent most of his speech advocating a theory of constitutional interpretation called originalism, which seeks to discern the meaning of the Constitution as envisioned by the Founding Fathers.
He mocked those who interpret the Constitution as a living document that has evolved over time.
He referred to the Supreme Court's jurisprudence on the death penalty, which has cited "evolving standards of decency" to ban the death penalty for juveniles and the mentally retarded as cruel and unusual punishment.
"I have no idea what the standards of decency are out there. I'm afraid to ask," Scalia said.
Justice Stephen Breyer has publicly articulated a more liberal interpretation of Constitution, saying that seeking to interpret sometimes vague wording through the eyes of the Founding Fathers can be impossible.
"If we're going to decide all these things from history, let's have nine historians and not nine judges," Breyer said earlier this month in a joint forum with Scalia.
Scalia acknowledged Wednesday that it's not always simple to divine original intent, but he said any other theory leaves judges unleashed to interpret the Constitution however they see fit.
The result, he said, is a sort of "mini-Constitutional convention" during every Supreme Court nomination in which interest groups seek nominees who will rewrite the Constitution to their standards.