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History of the FJA

Read The Federal Judges Association in the 20th Century

Early Days 

Founded in 1982, the Federal Judges Association is a voluntary association of federal judges appointed under Article III of the Constitution.  The association has grown to well over 1,100 members, an overwhelming majority of the nation’s Article III judges, who support the organization through their dues.  Its officers and directors come from federal courts of appeals and district courts across the country. 

The FJA is committed to a strong, impartial, and independent judiciary and works to sustain our system of justice.  Toward that end, the FJA supports civics education and public outreach.

The FJA was officially formed when sixteen federal judges met in May 1982 at Chicago’s O’Hare Hilton to adopt the FJA’s Articles of Incorporation.  Judge Spencer Williams, a district judge in the Northern District of California, was elected as the first president of the FJA. 

Pay Restoration Litigation

The impetus to form an association began long before 1982.  From the mid-1960s and into the early 1980s, uncontrolled inflation reduced the compensation of federal judges and threatened the quality and independence of the federal judiciary. Congress declined to adjust for these losses, even though other federal employees received offsetting salary increases, as did many other public and private employees. This situation caused an unprecedented increase in resignations from the federal bench and seriously compromised the judiciary’s ability to attract and retain highly qualified individuals.

Concern about the long-term effect on the judiciary led to a series of suits challenging congressional action on judicial pay.  Following this early litigation, the judges recognized the importance of having a national association and realized that threats to judicial independence, including salary restrictions, would be an ongoing challenge. 

As it turned out, history repeated itself.  Between 1995 and 2010, federal judges were denied cost of living adjustments (COLAs) when other federal civil servants received periodic adjustments.  The FJA, in coordination with the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, supported several legislative proposals to address the erosion of federal judges’ compensation.  In the late 1990s, a group of judges unsuccessfully challenged the COLA denial.  

In the face of unfavorable precedent, in 2009, six federal judges independently filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, Beer v. United States.  In late 2012, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals – in what is known as the Beer decision – revisited its earlier ruling on judicial pay and held that the denial of the COLAs violated the 1989 Ethics Reform Act and the Compensation Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  Beer v. United States, 696 F.3d 1174 (Fed. Cir. 2012); cert denied, 133 S. Ct. 1997 (2013).  On remand from the Federal Circuit, the Court of Federal Claims entered judgment in favor of the judges and restored the denied COLAs.

While the Beer suit was underway, in November 2012, the FJA sponsored a class action suit on behalf of all Article III judges, challenging the denial of COLAs on statutory and constitutional grounds.  That suit is known as Barker v. United States.  In November 2013, the Court of Federal Claims determined that the decision in Beer applied to the Article III judges covered by the Barker litigation and the salaries of Article III judges were adjusted accordingly.

Looking Forward

The FJA works collaboratively with the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts on matters of shared interest, ranging from the judiciary’s budget to legislation.

Since the formation of the national association, the FJA has worked successfully with Congress on a number of issues, including sentencing matters and amendments to the Judicial Survivors Annuities System.  In cooperation with the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges and the Federal Magistrate Judges Association, the FJA hosts an annual reception on Capitol Hill to promote dialogue between the legislative and judicial branches.

To bring its members together, the association began hosting a national conference in 1986.  The second FJA conference, in 1989, included a reception at the White House.  The chair of the conference recalled: “Never before in the history of our country has a reception been held at the White House for Article III judges.”  Since that time, the FJA has hosted a quadrennial conference in Washington, DC, with a program dedicated to cutting-edge legal issues affecting the judiciary and judicial administration.  Highlights of these conferences include receptions at the White House and the Supreme Court.  

For more than 20 years, the FJA has been a member of the International Association of Judges (IAJ), an organization of judges and magistrates from over 40 countries.  The IAJ studies issues of common interest to the judicial process on a comparative and transnational basis.  FJA representatives have been active as chairs of the study committees and regional groups.

In an effort to expand outreach efforts and provide teaching tools for civics education, the FJA recently received assistance from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Working with a consultant and in tandem with the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges and the Federal Magistrate Judges Association, the Civics Education Task Force and its consultant developed a compilation of web-based resources to assist judges and others in their outreach to students and teachers.

In the future, the FJA will continue its efforts to champion a fair and impartial judiciary, to guard against incursions on judicial independence, and to promote public understanding of the federal judicial branch.


Presidents of the FJA
1982-1987       Spencer M. Williams, District Judge, Northern District of California
1987-1989 Robert H. Hall, District Judge, Northern District of Georgia
1989-1991 Diana E. Murphy, Circuit Judge, Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals
1991-1993 Betty B. Fletcher, Circuit Judge, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
1993-1995 John M. Walker, Jr., Circuit Judge, Second Circuit Court of Appeals
1995-1997 W. Earl Britt, District Judge, Eastern District of North Carolina
1997-1999 Alan H. Nevas, District Judge, District of Connecticut
1999-2001 Ann Claire Williams, Circuit Judge, Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals
2001-2003 E. Grady Jolly, Circuit Judge, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
2003-2005 Larry L. Piersol, District Judge, District of South Dakota
2005-2007 Irene M. Keeley, District Judge, Northern District of West Virginia
2007-2009 Sarah Evans Barker, District Judge, Southern District of Indiana
2009-2011           Wiley Y. Daniel, District Judge, District of Colorado
2011-2013 W. Royal Furgeson, District Judge, Northern District of Texas
2013-2015 M. Margaret McKeown, Circuit Judge, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
2015-2017 Allyson K. Duncan, Circuit Judge, Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals
2017-2019 Marilyn L. Huff, District Judge, Southern District of California
2019-2021 Cynthia M. Rufe, District Judge, Eastern District of Pennsylvania
2021-2023 Richard Clifton, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals