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The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear the latest round of arguments between the government and a group of federal judges who say Congress improperly reduced their salaries. In so doing, the Court extended the 11-year run of United States v. Judge Terry J. Hatter, et al. The case stems from a 1984 law that for the first time forced federal employees — including judges — to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. Until then, most federal employees were excluded from the Social Security and Medicare systems because they already contributed to a civil service retirement program. Under the new law, most federal workers could opt out of the Social Security and Medicare withholding — but judges were not given that option. In 1989, Terry Hatter, now the chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, and seven other judges sued. The plaintiffs, who now number 16, claim that the law violated the Constitution’s ban on reducing the compensation of sitting federal judges during their tenure. Similar suits are pending on behalf of scores of other judges, but Hatter is the lead case. Hatter says he believes the government owes him between $50,000 and $60,000. Twice the U.S. Court of Federal Claims has rebuffed the Hatter judges, only to be reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. In 1996, the Supreme Court affirmed the judges’ victory, but in a most unusual way: Four justices — John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer — recused themselves, depriving the Court of its quorum of six and leaving the federal circuit decision intact. Apparently the four pulled out because they stood to benefit from the outcome of the case. On Monday, only Stevens and O’Connor recused — leaving the Court with enough members to decide the case. The Court didn’t say why Ginsburg and Breyer changed their positions. But it appears they accepted the government’s argument that they could return to the case because they have each been out of earlier federal judicial posts for more than six years. These types of suits are governed by a six-year statute of limitations. For their part, the plaintiff judges would rather have had the federal circuit’s rulings stand without any Supreme Court review. They argued that once judges recuse themselves from a case, they may not re-enter it. The judges are represented by a number of lawyers, including Stephen Smith of the Washington, D.C. office of San Francisco’s Morrison & Foerster and Steven Rosenthal of Washington, D.C.’s Cooper, Carvin & Rosenthal. Hatter said Monday that he was “a bit surprised” that the Court agreed to hear the government’s appeal. “All we really wanted was the same opportunities other federal employees got,” he said. The Supreme Court on Monday granted certiorari in one other case, United States v. Cleveland Indians Baseball. The case stems from the $280 million payment that Major League Baseball clubs made in 1994 to players who claimed that their free-agency rights were violated in the late 1980s. The issue before the Court is whether FICA and income taxes should be withheld for the year the money was paid or for the years when the violations occurred. In other action, the court dashed the hopes of Washington, D.C., residents to get voting members of Congress. In Clifford Alexander v. Norman Mineta, a three-judge federal court panel in Washington, D.C. ruled that Washington, D.C. residents have no right to vote for members of Congress. The residents appealed directly to the Supreme Court — a procedure allowed after voting rights cases are ruled on by special three-judge panels. Without hearing any argument, the high court affirmed the panel ruling. Stevens noted that he would have voted to hear oral argument.

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