Durbin Bill to Provide Financial Security to Families of Federal Judges Unanimously Passes the Senate

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – A bill to provide the surviving family members of Federal judges with financial and health benefits, unanimously passed the Senate today. The bill, sponsored by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senators Graham (R-SC) and Hatch (R-UT), will provide for a limited 6-month open season for Federal judges to opt into the Judicial Survivors’ Annuities System (JSAS).


“Many of the nation’s best and brightest attorneys no longer seek Federal judgeships because of the financial sacrifice they and their families would have to make,” Durbin said. “While our bill would not raise the judicial pay of our federal judges, it will provide a economic benefit that might make judicial service more tenable and attractive”


The JSAS provides an annuity for the surviving spouses and dependent children of a deceased federal judge. Depending on the judge's length of service, the annuity for a surviving spouse can be as high as 50 percent of the judge's average annual salary, and the annuity for surviving dependent children can be as high as 20 percent.


Federal judges have only 6 months from the date of their appointment to sign up for JSAS and, for a variety of reasons, many do not do so. Nearly 900 federal judges, representing about 40 percent of the federal judiciary, currently do not participate in JSAS. However, if given the opportunity, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts estimates that nearly a third would take advantage of the open season.


Durbin’s bill would allow nonparticipating federal judges around the country to pay a penalty and buy into the JSAS program. Such judges would be required to pay an enhanced contribution rate of 2.75 percent of their salary each year rather than the 2.2 percent rate they would pay if they had enrolled within 6 months of taking office. As a result, the cost of our bill would be borne by these new enrollees and not by the Federal Government or by previously enrolled judges.


A Congressional Budget Office review found that the cost of this bill is insignificant and requires no Federal funds. The higher ongoing contribution rates for new enrollees will offset the value of any potential future liabilities that would be incurred by the JSAS fund, which currently has assets of over $500 million.