May 10, 2006

Luttig resigns.

It's a lifetime job, being a federal judge, but you don't have to stay there for life. At 51 and not picked for the Supreme Court, he's moving on to become general counsel for Boeing. Via Metafilter, where you can read comments like "the resignation letter is awesome -- he makes it look like he's bravely volunteering to go off to war or something." Okay, let's look at the resignation letter (PDF):
The Boeing Company is an American icon. There's just something larger than life about the company...

In a word, I believe in the mission of Boeing, which reaches far beyond itself.
In a word?
Indeed, though I could have never expected that the opportunity would present itself, Boeing may well be the only company in America for which I would have ever considered leaving the court.
Well, that seems rather silly and gushy, but the real information is in the penultimate paragraph, where he speaks of his family and his two children who are about to go to college. You can't come out and say it in a letter, but the message is there. Federal judges are underpaid compared to their alternatives. But again, no one has to serve out the life term.

37 comments:

Jeremy said...

I just finished reading Robinson Crusoe. I hated how often Defoe used the phrase "In a word" and then launched into a long, exagerated and repetitive descriptions.

David said...

Good to know that even Judges have their limits.

My idea of hell would be listening to the twinky defense from a second rate lawyer representing a third rate crook.

al said...

My idea of hell would be listening to the twinky defense from a second rate lawyer representing a third rate crook.

I had to do that as a juror for 3 days. I don't know how judges do it.

JimNtexas said...

I guess we add 'federal judge' to the list of unpleasent occupations that Americans just won't do any more.

Time to open the H1B program to lawyers and Judges.

Sanjay said...

Wow, I can't wait to read about it on his blog.

MadisonMan said...

Not being a follower of the judiciary, I'll ask: is resigning to pursue opportunities really that uncommon? Have others done so recently?

nunzio said...

I'm sure he's got a nice pension coming after 15 years. I wonder if he knows how to work at a real job, though.

chuck b. said...

No one has to pay for their kids' college educations either, but it's nice to do.

The Drill SGT said...

Folks,

Believe it or not, the US takes lawyers in under H1b visa's

ChrisO said...

He seems to be one of the few people left in America who uses a typewriter. And I'm not in the legal profession, but is it really anyone's lifelong dream to serve on the Court of Appeals? I assume once you're close to that level, your dreams have more to do with the Supreme Court.

And I find it incredible that he wants to leave a job where he has "loved every single aspect and every single moment of my service." He's really in for a rude awakening on his next job.

Richard Dolan said...

Luttig's letter was hardly a work of literature, but it was gracious and made the usual rhetorical points. As a circuit judge, his salary was about $170K, which is perhaps a tenth what he will earn at Boeing once all the options, etc., are included.

There is a monkish quality to the job of federal circuit judge, and I am sure it grows old after 15 years. In the 2d Circuit, for example, the judges normally decide an appeal (by voting) immediately after oral argument. When the opinion is circulated, they communicate with each other only in writing. Unlike a district judge, there is almost no give and take in the courtroom, and the attorneys in a case appear before them only briefly for, perhaps, 30 minutes total. Mostly the circuit judge and his clerks work in chambers alone, day after day, reading records and briefs, and churning out bench memos, draft opinions and comments on opinions drafted by other judges. It's a job, and one for which no president has ever had trouble finding hordes of talented and interested aspirants. But it also has its built-in limitations.

In reading this thread, it was disappointing to see some snarky comments. Nunzio, for example, says: "I'm sure he's got a nice pension coming after 15 years. I wonder if he knows how to work at a real job, though." Don't be such a jerk. It's a hard and demanding job, far nore demanding than most. And, no, he doesn't qualify for a "nice pension." By resigning at this stage (meaning before he was eligible for senior status), he forfeits any right to a pension. For an Article 3 judge to qualify for a pension, he must satisfy the "rule of 80," meaning that his age and years of service on the bench must equal at least 80 (the rules are different for Article 1 judges). Luttig is 51, and has served 15 years -- so he doesn't make it, and gets nothing in terms of a pension.

The fact that Luttig is going to Boeing as GC obviously doesn't make him ineligible to be considered for the SCOTUS. I expect that, after a few years in the private sector, it may make him more attractive. In the private sector, he will be free to express opinions on a variety of subjects that most judges avoid. And he will see a part of life that most federal judges never do. It's been a while -- really, since Justice Powell -- that a President has appointed someone with any extension experience in the private sector to the SCOTUS (Ginsberg and Souter had a lot of non-judicial experience, but it wasn't private sector).

Madisonman asks: "is resigning to pursue opportunities really that uncommon? Have others done so recently?" Yes, it's relatively rare, particularly from the court of appeals. Other examples: Justice Goldberg, who resigned for SCOTUS at LBJ's request to become Amb to the US; Judges Mulligan and Pratt, both of whom resigned from the 2d Circuit, one (Mulligan) to join Skadden (a large corporate firm in NY) and one (Pratt) after he was eligible to retire to practice law part time with family members. Resignations from the District Court are slightly more frequent, but also rare. Several judges have resigned over the years in NY, most recently Judge Martin, and before him Judges Sofaer and Conboy.

Luttig was a terrific appellate judge, and served the country selflessly. Wish him well, and skip the snarkiness.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

He sounds very idealistic in his letter. It takes some courage to leave a "sure thing" for a new challenge.

MadisonMan said...

Thanks for info, Mr. Dolan.

Eli Blake said...

Yes, federal judges are underpaid. Like a lot of professions.

This also gives me an insight into why conservatives are so irked about how courts tend to move to the left. Conservatives are more into earning money, and if they 1) show enough competence in their position to have people send job offers their way, and 2) are offered a substantial sum of money, then they will probably take it. That includes judges.

On the other hand, liberal judges are more likely to be motivated by ideology, idealism or a desire to make a difference than just cold hard cash, so even if someone makes such an offer to a liberal judge, (s)he is more likely to turn it down.

So the bottom line is that the conservative judge will move on to become a conservative millionaire, while the liberal judge will remain on the bench making case law.

And no, as a liberal, I'm not gloating about this observation, because I agree that we should pay judges more. Not just judges either-- I recently got done serving on a county Grand Jury (boy, was that an eye-opening experience-- blogged on here) and it turned out that due to tight budgets, some of the cases we got were several years old. Also the police are very underpaid, and it can sometimes show up in the quality of police work you get.

But the observation is here nonetheless-- liberal judges are more likely to stay on the court because money is less of a motivation than it is to conservatives.

Ann Althouse said...

Richard Dolan: "In reading this thread, it was disappointing to see some snarky comments. Nunzio, for example, says: "I'm sure he's got a nice pension coming after 15 years. I wonder if he knows how to work at a real job, though."..."

I agree with Richard. Even though the salary of a federal judge may sound high, the individuals in these positions could make much more money doing something else, and it takes real sacrifice and dedication to do the job well, as Luttig surely did. We should be grateful that such talented people are willing to serve -- grateful to them and to their families.

You know, we lawprofs could make a lot more money doing something else, and many of our students make more than those of us immediately upon graduation. That said, there is nothing like having a job you love, and no amount of money can buy back the time spent doing work you don't enjoy. (Hear me, oh law students.) Loving your work is one of the greatest benefits in life, though it is less important than being able to provide for your family. Everyone with more than one option has to think hard about the balance between the family's standard of living and one's own pleasure in pursuing a given career. It's not easy to get the choice right.

"The fact that Luttig is going to Boeing as GC obviously doesn't make him ineligible to be considered for the SCOTUS. I expect that, after a few years in the private sector, it may make him more attractive."

Again, I agree with you! When a slot opens up on the Court, there is always talk about how it would be a good idea to appoint someone other than a judge, someone who understands how things work in the real world. I think Luttig will become a more attractive selection.

And I do wish him well, even though I made fun of the overenthusiasm for Boeing in the letter.

Ann Althouse said...

Eli: I agree. If you want the judiciary full of ideologues, keep the salaries low.

nunzio said...

I apologize that I don't hold federal judges in the same esteem as soldiers or cops (who also pay for their kids' college tuition).

But Judge Luttig will now have to (1) deal with superiors and (2) play well with others, which isn't required in his current gig. Maybe he'll succeed, maybe not.

I also think Congress is wise to make judges pensions based on 65 years of age and 15 years of service so we don't have know-it-all 36 year olds on the bench.

Steven said...

What is interesting to me is why Boeing would want Luttig as its GC. Luttig really has no private sector experience. The Boeing press release doesn't shed any particular light on this. Up to this point in its history, Boeing generally promoted the GC internally or from its outside law firm. This hire really speaks volumes about the importance to Boeing of its relationship with the Federal government.

Marghlar said...

Eli,

Your conservative/liberal breakdown is really a bit silly. A good portion of the federal judiciary is conservative, and they are all making about the same as what Luttig was before retirement. Virtually every single federal judge could quit and make two or three times as much as they do at present. They do the job because they enjoy it more than they'd enjoy the extra money -- regardless of political persuasion.

Nunzio:Luttig was appointed when he was around 36, you know. As was Kozinski, another top circuit judge. More do get appointed later in life, but that probably has more to do with the difficulty of establishing a sufficient resume so young in life, rather than a concern that many would quit.

Those jobs are coveted, and attractive to many lawyers, because of the intellectual rewards they offer, and not because they pay well. Judges still have to work pretty hard (or at least, they choose to do so). I think a lot of it has to do with being fatigued with advocacy, and prefering a role that is more focused on getting a right result. Similar to the reasons many want to teach law, actually.

I agree with Richard that the snark here is pretty unfortunate. I can disagree with some of Luttig's judicial philosophy while still admiring his public service.

Simon said...

Frankly, the idea that Federal Judges don’t make good money is just ridiculous; a district judge makes $165k p.a., and an appellate judge makes over $170k p.a.; and they are guaranteed that job for life, if they want it. Luttig is making over four times as much money as the average American wage, and the average American wage is paid by a job you can be fired from. Anyone who thinks the compensation package for a judge isn’t a pretty good deal is living in cloud cuckoo land. Now, salaries should be sufficient to attract the best talent, sure; and don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that a good lawyer can’t make a LOT more money than that in a year, but that’s why it’s called “public service” — look up the latin root of the word if you think it’s a place to get rich.

Whatever his protestations, and whatever is really going on, it LOOKS as if he's made up his mind that he's never going to get that supreme court seat, so he might as well make some money.

Eli Blake said...

Marglar:

True they could all quit and earn more. My point is that conservatives (who esteem money more-- that is one reason they are conservatives) are more likely to quit and take the money. When they do, while the liberals remain on the bench, then the court naturally tilts left.

Ann Althouse said...

Eli, Marghlar: That's why I used the term "ideologue." The conservative ideologue finds extra pleasures as a judge, just like the liberal ideologue. The ideal judge, the diligent, humble judge, wouldn't have much fun. The real fun is in lawproffing. (Except the grading!)

Marghlar said...

Ann: I think it could be framed more charitably -- people who enjoy intellectual rewards (and maybe prestige rewards) more than monetary ones like to be judges...some will be "idealogues," but others will be openminded types who just like ideas.

I also think judging avoids one drawback of lawproffing -- the feeling that one's ideas are ultimately of little significance, because so much scholarship is basically ignored by everyone but other scholars.

Eli: I think you are generalizing from an absurdly small data set. Can you list for me how many conservative judges v. liberal judges have been resigning? I think the number of either is vanishingly small. Luttig is high profile, but that's not a good reason to generalize from his case. And lots of liberals enjoy making money, too.

Simon: I agree that the undercompensation thing is overblown; judges are doing quite well. But the question remains -- does the incentive structure distort the courts by failing to attract able lawyers who can make much more elsewhere? I think probably not -- the appeals courts are generally stocked by fairly competent judges. (But see Posner, expressing a contrary opinion in The Federal Courts...)

The criticism isn't that judges aren't doing objectively well, but that they are falling behind subejctively.

Simon said...

Eli Blake said...
"True they could all quit and earn more. My point is that conservatives (who esteem money more-- that is one reason they are conservatives) are more likely to quit and take the money. When they do, while the liberals remain on the bench, then the court naturally tilts left. "

I've always assumed that this is a substantial reason why law schools lean so dramatically left. After a while, it becomes self-reinforcing, because not only are there financial inducements for conservatives to go into private practise rather than teaching, but to stay in teaching means coping with the overwhelmingly liberal character of the faculty.

Eli Blake said...

Ann:

Then try grading algebra. The mistakes are undoubtedly much easier to spot (and as liberal as I am, I have yet to be accused of 'brainwashing our collegiate minds'-- I mean, what would I do? Give them the 'world view' on the quadratic formula?

Marghlar:

Well, you have your view and I have mine. I'm not going to spend all afternoon rehashing the same argument.

Ann Althouse said...

Marghlar: "I think it could be framed more charitably -- people who enjoy intellectual rewards (and maybe prestige rewards) more than monetary ones like to be judges...some will be "idealogues," but others will be openminded types who just like ideas."

I once had the chance to ask Scalia why, if judging was what he claimed it was (duty-bound interpretation), he wanted to spend his life doing it (as opposed to being a lawprof, which he'd been before). He said "Because I really believe in it." Meaning his theory of interpretation. I didn't quite buy that. I believe in all sorts of processes without wanting to personally do the work. There's a right way to wire a house, but I don't want to be an electrician. On the other hand, if I thought few people were going to do it right, and bad people were going to go ahead and do it wrong, I might feel responsible for doing the work. Ah, and I might even enjoy that I was saving people from harm.

"I also think judging avoids one drawback of lawproffing -- the feeling that one's ideas are ultimately of little significance, because so much scholarship is basically ignored by everyone but other scholars."

The funny thing about that statement is that it exaggerates the effect of law scholarship.

Simon: "I've always assumed that this is a substantial reason why law schools lean so dramatically left."

I sort of agree. I think lefties are more likely to think ill of the project of making a lot of money, and righties are more likely to think it's fine. But I think people who love ideas, in all political positions, find the academic life very rewarding.

Aspasia M. said...

Up to this point in its history, Boeing generally promoted the GC internally or from its outside law firm. This hire really speaks volumes about the importance to Boeing of its relationship with the Federal government.

Yep. I thought it was interesting too.

Frankly, the idea that Federal Judges don’t make good money is just ridiculous; a district judge makes $165k p.a., and an appellate judge makes over $170k p.a.; and they are guaranteed that job for life, if they want it.

Agreed.

JimNtexas said...

Liberals are more likely to want to stay in government because they want power to force other people to live their lives the liberal way - that's why they are liberal.

I have no experience with appeals courts, but I've had the opportunity to hang around our county courthouse over a number of years for various civil proceedings of one kind or another.

My observation is that judges seem to like being judges even though they could probably make more in the private sector after a few years. I suspect that a number of factors add to the net perceived value of the judge's compensation:

1) Judges take a lot of time off. There seem to endless Judical Conferences of one kind or another, all 18 government holidays, and they lock the door to the courthouse at 5pm. I'm not sure how much vacation they get, but I'm pretty sure its a lot compared to most people in and out of the legal profession. Except college professors of course. No one gets more vacation than a college professor.

2) Judges have no boss, no competition, and in practice are never fired. Even though we elect our judges in Texas, I can't think of one that has ever lost an election, at least below the level of the State Supreme Court.

4) A private sector lawyer has to worry about where his next client is coming from. Even most goverment agency lawyers have a slight worry that they could be reorgainized out of a job. But a judge has an endless supply of customers.

3) From the time they arrive at work to the time they leave the Judge has a line people wanting to kiss their rear ends. No one ever really argues with or contradicts a judge. The Judge is master of all she surveys.

Simon said...

Then try grading algebra. The mistakes are undoubtedly much easier to spot (and as liberal as I am, I have yet to be accused of 'brainwashing our collegiate minds'-- I mean, what would I do? Give them the 'world view' on the quadratic formula?

Perhaps there could be controversy in the math world using foreign derivations? Still, I bet nobody ever criticized a mathematician for being a strict additionist. Perhaps there's a branch of mathematicians called living numerologists, who argue that the value of any given integer should relfect society's current needs for that integer. That way you could demand that your bank manager be an "originalist" where your money is concerned (that is, it is the value that you originally put in there, rather than the evolving standards of the bank's cash reserves). ;)

Simon said...

Ann:
"I once had the chance to ask Scalia why, if judging was what he claimed it was (duty-bound interpretation), he wanted to spend his life doing it. He said "Because I really believe in it." Meaning his theory of interpretation. I didn't quite buy that. I believe in all sorts of processes without wanting to personally do the work. There's a right way to wire a house, but I don't want to be an electrician. On the other hand, if I thought few people were going to do it right, and bad people were going to go ahead and do it wrong, I might feel responsible for doing the work. Ah, and I might even enjoy that I was saving people from harm."

I was kind of gearing up to disagree with you until I got to that last sentence. I sort of agree, but I'd carry the analogy a little further than you do.

Imagine that you were someone with a great deal of experience with electricity. And imagine there is this huge national project which requires a great number of electricians, a few hundred. And moreover, there are nine absolutely key electricians in this project, and a mistake on the part of any five of those key electricians has the capacity to electrocute a huge number of people. Now, if you really believe that the danger posed by those nine key slots being occupied by the wrong kinds of electricians is immense, and you know that you yourself are capable of doing that job properly, wouldn't you give up almost anything to be one of those nine?

twwren said...

Two comments on Judge Luttig's resignation letter-

1. We have finally located the typwiter used during Bush's National Guard Tour.

2. He didn't even ACTUALLY sign it.

Simon said...

"2. He didn't even ACTUALLY sign it."

Uh...Yes he did. Page 3.

Aspasia M. said...

Liberals are more likely to want to stay in government because they want power to force other people to live their lives the liberal way - that's why they are liberal.

Uh - social conservatives?

I find the above sentence interesting, particularly after reading the NYTimes mag. article about the rising strength of movements who want to ban contraceptive use, even for married couples.

somefeller said...

"I agree with Richard. Even though the salary of a federal judge may sound high, the individuals in these positions could make much more money doing something else, and it takes real sacrifice and dedication to do the job well, as Luttig surely did. We should be grateful that such talented people are willing to serve -- grateful to them and to their families.

You know, we lawprofs could make a lot more money doing something else, and many of our students make more than those of us immediately upon graduation. That said, there is nothing like having a job you love, and no amount of money can buy back the time spent doing work you don't enjoy. (Hear me, oh law students.) Loving your work is one of the greatest benefits in life, though it is less important than being able to provide for your family."

I'm not sure I'd agree with the first part of this statement. The skill sets for being a good judge or lawprof are not the same as those for being a good corporate attorney or litigator. That's not to say that some people can be successful in more than one of those jobs. However, I've seen plenty of good dealmaker attorneys whom I doubt would be good judges or lawprofs, as well as good lawprofs I wouldn't want to see on the bench or negotiating on my behalf, etc., etc. That's not to insult judges, lawprofs or anyone else. I'm just saying we shouldn't assume that just because a person is a good judge or lawprof, he or she is foregoing lots of income that he or she would otherwise undoubtedly get in the private sector, or vice-versa. (Although in the Luttig case, that appears to have been a good assumption.)

I agree with the latter point wholeheartedly, however. Having a job you love, even if the pay isn't as much as something else you could be doing (as long as you are making enough to provide for your family), is better than being in a job you hate, particularly in the billable-hours hell that big-firm legal practice has become. Even if you are being paid a lot to eat s**t, you are still eating s**t.

Speaking of eating, blogger ate an earlier version of this. Grrr.

Tom T. said...

JimNTexas' made an excellent comment about the intangible benefits of being a judge. Many of them are the sort of person who likes to assert that he or she is the smartest person in the room, and as a judge, they're in a position to play that role every day, without ever encountering disagreement.

Also, the job security should not be discounted. A third-year big-city law firm associate makes more than a federal judge, but the associate typically works much longer hours and can be fired at any time.

Finally, my question echoes an earlier commenter: What are Luttig's qualifications to be GC of Boeing? In other words, what does Boeing think it is buying here?

Aspasia M. said...

Finally, my question echoes an earlier commenter: What are Luttig's qualifications to be GC of Boeing? In other words, what does Boeing think it is buying here?

My guess: Boeing works closely with the government for contracts.

There was that legal trouble that Boeing got into.

Boeing stock went up today after the announcement was made about Luttig.

peter hoh said...

This article in the Wall Street Journal Online offers some interesting perspective on the Luttig resignation.