John Paul Stevens: Supreme Court retirees keep lifetime pay

John Paul Stevens will retire from the Supreme Court but will get lifetime pay of $213,900 a year.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
Associate Justice John Paul Stevens (seen in a 2006 file photo) announced Friday that he is retiring from the Supreme Court. But like other federal judges, he'll continue to draw lifetime pay.

When Justice John Paul Stevens retires this summer, he'll leave the trappings of the Supreme Court but not the salary.

He'll continue to draw lifetime pay of $213,900.

It's a 150-year-old practice that applies to all retirees of the federal bench, one of the few places that offer lifetime pay. Not even presidents get to keep drawing their entire salary when they leave office.

The idea behind a lifetime salary, part of the Judiciary Act of 1869, was that judges who had reached the age of 70 and put in 10 years of service wouldn't feel compelled to keep working if they weren't feeling up to the job.

Since that time, the act has been amended so that 65-year-olds with 15 years of service can also retire with full salary.

Retired justices and judges are still expected to remain active, doing the equivalent of at least three months of an active judge's work or the equivalent of full-time administrative work by a court employee or an employee of another federal or state agency. Judges with disabilities don't have to work.

Presidents, by contrast, didn't start drawing pay after leaving office until 1958, when Congress determined that former President Truman was having trouble hiring a staff to handle his correspondence and other postpresidential duties.

There are some perks for the former chief of state: An office staff and suitable office space from the General Services Administration, free stationery and phone service, as well as pay equal to a cabinet secretary.

That amounts to $196,700 a year, which is not shabby. But it's still quite a drop from the $400,000 that President Obama is pulling down while in office.
The former president's pay adjusts with cabinet secretaries' salaries; retired judges' pay does not. So eventually, inflation allows presidents to catch up.

For the moment, though, Justice Stevens has the satisfaction of knowing that he'll be retiring with higher pay than former President George W. Bush.

-- Monitor researchers Leigh Montgomery and Elizabeth Ryan contributed to this post.

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