The opinion of the court was delivered by: STANLEY SPORKIN
As the Court finds that at least some of the parties have standing in this case, the Court will address the merits of this case.
II. Validity of ratification of 27th Amendment
Because this issue was raised only by Common Cause, as amicus curiae, and not by any of the defendants in this case, any determination of this issue will have to await another case.
III. Constitutionality of Challenged provisions of Ethics Reform Act of 1989
Plaintiffs challenge two provisions of the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 (ERA) as violating the 27th Amendment
to the U.S. Constitution: (1) the automatic pay increases (or "COLAs") and (2) the quadrennial pay increases.
A. Quadrennial Commission Pay Raises. ERA provides for the establishment of a Citizens' Commission on Public Service and Compensation. This Commission is to make recommendations to the president every four years regarding the pay level of high-level Government officials, including Members of Congress. After receiving the Commission's recommendations, the President, in turn, is to submit a recommendation concerning the pay levels to Congress. To become effective, the President's recommendations must be approved by a recorded vote and enacted into law. The first Citizens' Commission is to be convened in fiscal year 1993; its first report to the President is due by December 15, 1993. The President is scheduled to transmit his first recommendation under the Ethics Reform Act to Congress in January 1994. Should the President recommend a pay increase and should the Congress approve it, the first Congressional quadrennial pay raise under the Act would come into effect January 1995. Ethics Reform Act of 1989, Pub. L. 101-194, § 701, 103 Stat. 1763-1767.
It is worth noting that the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 was not the first piece of legislation to create such a commission. The quadrennial review process extends back to the Postal Revenue and Federal Salary Act of 1967, 81 Stat. 642, which established a Commission on Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Salaries to review the salaries of high-level Executive, Legislative, and Judicial officials every four years. This Commission also was directed to make recommendations to the President concerning salary adjustments of high-level Government officials, and the President would in turn submit recommendations to Congress. If both Houses approved a salary adjustment recommended by the President, such adjustment would take effect soon thereafter. The Ethics Reform Act of 1989 abolished this Commission, and replaced it with the Citizens' Commission, which is to have a different composition than its counterpart under the Salary Act.
Congress first provided for automatic annual adjustments to its Members' pay in the Executive Salary Cost-of-Living Act of 1975, Pub. L. 94-82. The Ethics Reform Act of 1989 (ERA) simply establishes a different methodology for calculating the automatic annual adjustments, called COLAs. Under ERA, the COLA is calculated by comparing the percentage change in the Employment Cost Index and subtracting one-half of one percent. P.L. 101-194, § 704. The purpose of using this index is to maintain some comparability between governmental and private-sector salaries. See 5 U.S.C. § 5301(3). The first COLA under the ERA went into effect on January 1, 1991. P.L. 101-194, § 704(b).
The Court finds both challenged provisions--the 3.2% cost-of-living adjustment and the quadrennial review--to be lawful in every respect. Before explaining the Court's reasoning behind this conclusion, some background to the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 is in order.
We live in a truly great society. We have a system of government that is unmatched. An examination of our 200 year old Constitution and the history that surrounded its adoption has left me awestruck. I often wonder what absolute geniuses Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson and the others who wrote the Constitution must have been. It is an incredible document. The concept of a tripartite government with a system of checks and balances was an ingenious idea; history has proven that point. We owe it to our founding fathers and to the citizenry our Constitution protects to provide the most robust and effective government possible.
It clearly could not have been the concept of our founding fathers to provide government "on the cheap." This Court agrees with President Bush, whose letter supporting the 1989 Ethics Reform Act stated, "The skills of these individuals [that is, representatives and senators] are essential to the quality of service government provides to the American people." 135 Cong. Rec. at H8745.
If we want good government, we must pay for it. Like any other commodity in a free enterprise society, the cost of government has its price. While it may be a cliche, it is often the fact that you only get what you pay for.
If there was one failing of our founding fathers, it is that they did not spell out with sufficient clarity how important it was to pay our government leaders a decent and adequate compensation. That ...