Federal district judges are appointed for life and typically stay on the job well past retirement age. Of 45 current vacancies in federal district and appeals courts across the country, four are due to resignations, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
"It's unusual, but it's been happening increasingly, partly because the federal judges have not had a significant pay raise in a long time," said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.
The Administrative Office says on its Web site that in the 1970s, 22 federal judges departed from the bench. That number rose to 55 in the 1990s and this decade there have been 48 resignations so far. The office expects 68 departures by 2010.
Federal district judges earn $165,200 annually, about $20,000 less than a senior attorney with the Securities and Exchange Commission and about $265,000 less than the dean of a top law school.