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Supreme Court: A just salary?
Compared to the private sector, it's not a lot. Here's how the wage stacks up against other jobs.
July 1, 2005: 5:50 PM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The successor to retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will shape the direction of our nation's democratic experiment, one of nine individuals charged with deciding such crucial issues as the separation of church and state, the extent of power the federal government can exert over the states and possibly even deciding who will become the next president.

But one thing they won't get a chance to do is make a boatload of money in the process.

Whoever replaces O'Connor will undoubtedly have one of the finest legal minds in the country. He or she will also have a paycheck of less than $200,000 a year, compared with an average of over $5 million for corporate executives.

'There is a motivational force that is not money," said Paul Hodgson, a compensation specialist at the Portland, Maine based research group the Corporate Library, in explaining why people become civil servants. "If you're a lawyer and you're not motivated by money, that would probably seem like the most important job there is."

Hodgson said the compensation discrepancy is especially acute for Supreme Court justices because, unlike many other high-level public employees, their lifetime appointment means they will most likely not return to the lucrative private sector.

But don't take up a collection plate just yet. The Supreme Court judges, like other top government officials, still make some five times the amount of the average American worker.

And, as Hodgson notes, "If you're up for a Supreme Court position, you've probably made a lot of money already."

For more on O'Connor's retirement, click here.  Top of page


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