WASHINGTON - Chief Justice John Roberts urged Congress to raise the pay of federal judges in a year-end report that emphasized improving communications with Capitol Hill and the White House.
"The separate branches may not always agree," Roberts wrote, adding that each should strive "to know and appreciate where the others stand."
His report on the federal judiciary comes at a critical time, with important cases on the Supreme Court docket likely to affect the 2008 election and the Bush administration's tactics in the war on terror.
Roberts struck a conciliatory tone with Congress, where legislation to raise judges' pay is under consideration.
A year ago, the chief justice had been critical of Congress for a decades-long history of not acting to raise judges' salaries.
"We are grateful for the continuing support of the bipartisan leadership in both the House and the Senate, as well as the support of the president, on this vital legislation," Roberts wrote.
He called the legislation a reasonable compromise for federal judges who "year after year have discharged their important duties for steadily eroding real pay."
US District Court judges are paid $165,200 a year, the same as members of Congress.
The dollar amount, Roberts wrote, is about the same as, and in some cases less than, first-year lawyers at firms in major cities. Federal judges' pay would rise to $233,500 annually under a bill the House Judiciary Committee passed, 28-5, on Dec. 12.
"The cost of this long overdue legislation - less than .004 percent of the annual federal budget - is minuscule in comparison to what is at stake," said Roberts.
The president makes $400,000, while the vice president and the speaker of the House make $212,100, the same as the chief justice's current salary. Deans and senior professors at top law schools make more than federal judges, according to the website for the federal judiciary.
Federal appeals court judges are paid $175,100 annually, and their salaries would jump to $247,500. The eight associate justices of the Supreme Court are paid $203,000 annually and their salaries would rise to $286,900. The chief justice's salary would be raised to $299,800.
A recent study of 386 companies by the Associated Press found only six chief executive officers reporting incomes of less than $1 million a year.
A bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee would raise federal judges' salaries more than the House version, moving the pay of US District Court judges to $247,800, the pay of appeals court judges to $262,700, associate justices to $304,500, and the chief justice's salary to $318,200.
The legislation reflects a commitment by Congress and the executive branch to carry out their constitutional responsibilities to the judiciary, said Roberts, who urged prompt passage as a first order of business when the House and Senate resume work.
Among the important cases the Supreme Court is considering is the longstanding battle concerning terrorism-era detainees held indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay. They are seeking access to US civilian courts to challenge their confinement.
Many of the nearly 300 detainees have been at Guantanamo Bay for almost six years, making the island prison a focal point for international outrage over the Bush administration's tactics since the Sept. 11 attacks.