United States v. Hatter

In United States v. Hatter (532 U.S. 557 [2001]), the ruling in Evans v. Gore was specifically overruled "insofar as it holds that the Compensation Clause forbids Congress to apply a generally applicable, nondiscriminatory tax to the salaries of federal judges, whether or not they were appointed before enactment of the tax" (at 567). There, Justice Breyer, writing for the court (at 570), cited with approval the dissenting opinion in Evans v. Gore of Justice Holmes, joined in by Justice Brandeis, where he wrote: "The exemption of salaries from diminution is intended to secure the independence of the judges, on the ground, as it was put by Hamilton in the Federalist (No. 79) that `a power over a man's subsistence amounts to a power over his will.' That is a very good reason for preventing attempts to deal with a judge's salary as such, but seems to me no reason for exonerating him from the ordinary duties of a citizen, which he shares with all others. To require a man to pay the taxes that all other men have to pay cannot possibly be made an instrument to attack his independence as a judge. I see nothing in the purpose of this clause of the Constitution to indicate that the judges were to be a privileged class, free from bearing their share of the cost of the institutions upon which their well-being if not their life depends." (Evans, 253 US at 265 [Holmes, J., dissenting].) In Hatter, the court distinguished between a direct and an indirect nondiscriminatory reduction in compensation, stating that while "the Legislature cannot directly reduce judicial salaries even as part of an equitable effort to reduce all Government salaries[,] . . . a tax law . . . affects compensation indirectly . . . [and thus] the potential threats to judicial independence that underlie the Constitution's compensation guarantee cannot justify a special judicial exemption from a commonly shared tax" (532 US at 571).