Michigan Supreme Court justices in line for 7% raise to $208K per year by 2026
- The 7 percent pay hike is now pending legislative approval
- A state panel wanted to increase pay for governor, AG, SOS and lawmakers, who haven’t seen pay increases since 2002
- Panel chair: Some legislators want pay raise but don’t want to vote for one
LANSING — A state panel voted 5-2 Wednesday to give Michigan Supreme Court Justices a 7 percent pay raise and $10,000 in expense allowances each, arguing their wages have not kept up with inflation.
If legislators sign on to the recommendation, the annual salary for the seven justices on the high court would jump from $181,483 to $194,187 in 2025 and $207,780 in 2026.
The average pay for state supreme court justices nationwide is $219,012, according to data from the State Officers Compensation Commission, a panel of seven appointed by the governor that meets every two years to recommend pay rates for Michigan’s top elected officials.
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The panel opted against salary changes for the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and state lawmakers. They have not had a pay raise since 2002 and took a 10 percent pay cut in 2010.
Most commissioners said the officials need a raise, but lawmakers would be reluctant to approve one.
“I’d recommend an increase this year, except it will not pass,” said Robert Emerson, a former Democratic lawmaker and chair of the commission.
“The indications that I’ve received are that this will become a political issue,” he continued. “The minority has indicated they are not going to be terribly cooperative.”
Since 2011, the governor has made $159,300 a year. Salaries for the lieutenant governor ($111,510), attorney general ($112,410), secretary of state ($112,410) and lawmakers ($71,685) also remain the same.
Bridge Michigan reached out to all four legislative leaders via their spokespeople for comment.
Rosie Jones, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, told Bridge the office would “carefully review the recommendations we receive from the commission.”
Amber McCann, speaking on behalf of House Speaker Joe Tate, D-Detroit, acknowledged Tate had met with Emerson but did not elaborate on the discussion.
The others did not respond to Bridge’s inquiry.
Clement: Justice pay not up to par
The 7-percent pay increase recommendation for Supreme Court justices was approved after Chief Justice Elizabeth Clement and Justice Brian Zahra requested the increase on Wednesday.
“Inflation has eroded our salaries substantially,” Clement told the panel.
In 2019, the commission recommended a 5 percent pay increase for the justices, which took effect this year. But that represented just a small “dent” in the salary gap compared to judges in other areas, Clement said.
Clement offered a presentation that noted her current salary of $181,483 lags behind a federal circuit judge’s salary of $246,600. If her salary does not increase, Clement estimated a 50 percent pay gap — or a $91,023 — between her pay and a federal circuit judge’s salary by 2028.
Lower court judges’ pay, which used to be tied to the Supreme Court Justices’ pay, would not be affected. That’s because a 2016 change in state law tied lower court judges' pay rate to state employee salaries.
Probate, circuit and district judges in Michigan make the same amount in salary under a new law passed last year. As of Oct. 1, 2022, probate judges made an annual salary of $168,752, according to a House Fiscal Agency analysis last year.
The median gross annual earnings of a private practice attorney in Michigan was $224,000 in 2019, according to a survey from the State Bar of Michigan.
While there could be political interest for pay hikes for justices, Emerson said a raise for other offices would be controversial.
He said he spoke to some Republicans who objected to an increase for Attorney General Dana Nessel because they disliked the Democrat's policies.
While declining to identify anyone, Emerson told reporters some Democrats legislators indicated they could not get the other party to agree to a pay increase.
“I also had leaders talking out of both sides of their mouths, telling me that they want a pay raise, but they don’t want to vote for one,” he said.
Commissioner Lawrence Nolan, an attorney in Eaton Rapids and one of only two commissioners without experience in the state Legislature, voted against the pay raise Wednesday, telling Bridge the proposals were “woefully insufficient.”
“If you know this is wrong, and you know it’s been wrong, then you need to fix it and forget about whether or not fixing it gets you un-elected,” he said.
Before 2002, the board’s recommendations took effect unless legislators vetoed them. Nolan, who initially advocated for a 25 percent increase across the board, said the current process is “broken.”
“I feel embarrassed and ashamed,” he said. “There should be a message that’s loud and clear that this is not reasonable.”
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