Many years ago, the great jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
stated, "I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization."
Imagine any public figure saying that today.
Today we have many among us who would revile Holmes, believing
that taxes are, at best, a necessary evil. Those who would treat
Holmes in that manner should heed the philosopher George
Santayana's famous statement: "Those who cannot remember the past
are condemned to repeat it." Remembering the past of course implies
knowing about the past in the first place. Too many, I think, speak
from ignorance, however well intentioned that ignorance may be.
The word "taxes" is invoked today in too many quarters as if it
were an obscenity. I am reminded of yet another famous quotation,
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous statement in
Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964) regarding obscenity. As he
struggled with the definition of obscenity, he said simply, "I know
it when I see it, and the motion picture in this case is not
If we substitute "taxes" for the motion picture Stewart was
grappling with and conclude that taxes are not an obscenity, you
will catch my drift -- or get the picture.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, home of many great lawyers
and jurists throughout our history and the history of our great
nation, now ranks 48th in compensation for judges among the 50
states and the District of Columbia, when compensation is adjusted
for cost of living. Only Vermont, Hawaii and Maine are lower in
Is this where Massachusetts wants to be? At the bottom? I
confess, as a matter of philosophy, not being a fan of rankings,
but where our great commonwealth stands in this matter of judicial
compensation is both illuminating and, I think, shameful.
I know there are many demands on our tax dollars, and I know
that many among us are struggling to recover from the substantial
economic downturn of the last several years. But, it is a fact that
our society, as a whole, measures success and value in economic
terms. Whether or not you, individual readers, or I, do so is
presently beside the point. If our judges are objectively underpaid
-- which I submit to you the overwhelming evidence indicates they
are --then we are saying, as citizens of this commonwealth, that we
do not value judges' services.
Is that the statement we want to make in this commonwealth? I
think not, and I hope not.
So, I invoke again Holmes to ask all of us to "buy civilization"
by supporting increased compensation for our judges. In doing so,
we will be making a positive statement not just about our judges,
but also about our entire system of justice and how we view
ourselves as members of a civilized society. Our legal system and
our judges are the gatekeepers of our civilized society, after all,
guarding over our laws and rules, striving to provide a level
playing field for everyone in our system of justice. It is only
fitting that our gatekeepers be recognized appropriately by
providing them with fair compensation. While that is not now the
case, it can and should be the case. That's why I urge you to "buy
civilization." That's what this is all about.