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Federal Circuit hears judges' pay case

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A federal appellate court heard arguments Friday in a case that could ultimately decide if Congress has the authority to withhold judicial pay increases as it’s done in the past or whether cost-of-living adjustments are required.

The case of Peter H. Beer, et al. v. U.S., No. 09-1395, is before a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals panel, after the Supreme Court of the United States in June remanded the class-action lawsuit to decide a procedural question about preclusion and the notice requirements involved in class certification.

While the case is about judicial pay, those merits weren't considered Friday. Instead, the panel is currently weighing whether the case should be allowed to proceed.

Eight current and former federal judges from U.S. courts nationwide claimed that Congress in 1989 promised cost-of-living adjustments but failed to deliver them several times during the past two decades. They argue that failure equates to an unconstitutional diminishment of judicial pay. The American Bar Association urged the SCOTUS to take the case because it views the continued diminution of judicial salaries as a danger to the judiciary’s independence and quality of work.

In January 2010, the Federal Circuit affirmed a 2009 ruling by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which had dismissed the case after holding the judges’ lawsuit was controlled by a 2001 case that rejected the same argument. After the plaintiffs asked the SCOTUS to take the case, the government opposed the request and argued that the judges’ claims depend on an interpretation of the Constitution’s compensation clause that the Federal Circuit had rejected in the 2001 case.

The SCOTUS ordered the Federal Circuit reconsider that issue, and that was the focus of Friday’s arguments.

The judges focused on the actual notice requirements in the class certification rules and how caselaw, even the most recent SCOTUS decision in Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (2011), factored into this set of circumstances.

At its heart, the case is about whether money-focused requests for relief require specific notice to class members who weren’t a part of the 2001 case or whether they are precluded from filing a new suit even if they didn’t know about the 2001 ruling. Some of the questions focused on whether actual notice is required.

Attorney Chris Landau with Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, D.C., argued on behalf of the plaintiffs, saying that this case comes down to due process. He said the court has an obligation to look after those absent class members to make sure they have adequate notice of the class-action requirements.

“This is kind of due process 101,” he said. “You can’t tell people, ‘Guess what… you can’t bring a lawsuit about your pay'… it’s hard to imagine a more classic monetary judgment matter than your pay.”

But Assistant Attorney General Tony West argued that the lower court’s judgment should be upheld because the plaintiffs in this case were bound by the 2001 decision rejecting the argument they’re making now.

“This case presents a lot of open questions that can be litigated, at least at the Supreme Court level,” he said.

The Federal Judges Association is an amicus curiae party in the case, which has national implications for federal judges throughout the U.S.

 

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  1. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  2. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  3. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  4. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  5. I totally agree with John Smith.

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