Justices Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas went to Capitol Hill to discuss the court's budget request for next year, a largely formal exercise made interesting by the rare give-and-take between justices and members of Congress.
Bills are pending in the House and Senate that would give judges pay hikes of 30 percent or more.
Thomas, noting that federal trial judges earn no more than first-year lawyers at top private firms, said, "I don't think it makes much sense for people with that level of responsibility to be paid at the level of first-year associates."
Kennedy reaffirmed his view that the judiciary is in crisis because of low pay, saying judges could perform the same duties yet triple their pay by becoming private arbitrators.
"We're losing our best judges," he told the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the court's budget. "We can't attract them to begin with and we can't retain them.