Do Judges Get Vacation Time? What You Need To Know


Vacation time is an essential aspect of proper work balance and provides a much-needed break from work. For judges whose role is to maintain order and interpret the laws of the land, they tend to work all year long and have some of the busiest schedules of any federal employee. So do judges get vacation time?

Judges get vacation time like any other employee. Judges at any level of the court system are entitled to annual leave, during which they can go on vacation. This annual leave period varies from 20 days but does not exceed 30 days, depending on the court in which they serve.

This article will discuss in detail the amount of vacation time that judges get, the number of annual leave days, and any other periods that they can go on vacation. This article will also explore any differences in the number of leave days and vacation time across the different court levels.

Should Judges Go on Vacation?

Judges should go on vacation to take some time off of work for themselves. It is good to remember that judicial employees are required to be available around the clock every day. In some instances, they will be required to work after hours and even on weekends without additional compensation. 

Judges arguably have one of the most stressful jobs. Unlike most working-class Americans, judges are required to be available 24/7 and often work long hours without overtime. The judicial leave period is necessary to give these judges ample time away from work.

Additionally, there are only seven Supreme Court Judges, so the workload shared between them can mean busy schedules and long hours.  

As reiterated by the Sixth Judicial Circuit, the judicial leave period is also crucial for rejuvenation, since working all year long can result in fatigue.

How Much Vacation Time Do Supreme Court Justices Get?

Supreme Court justices get 30 days of vacation time. The responsibility of prescribing this annual leave falls on the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

The annual vacation days accrue on the first month of the year or on the date that the judge began their tenure, which means that they can take all their leave days upfront. During this period, the Supreme Court judges are free to go on vacation.

However, Supreme Court judges also enjoy other vacation periods due to the nature and structure of their work. As explained by Laura Woods from Chron, Supreme Court Judges enjoy generous vacation time since, unlike other judges, they also enjoy a three-month recess.

The above is supported by information on the US Courts website, which notes that by law, the Supreme Court’s term is supposed to start on the first Monday in October. This term then goes on until the Sunday preceding the first Monday of the following year. 

However, the Supreme Court goes for recess from June until this first Monday of October, which is equivalent to roughly three months.

The judges are free to spend this time as they please during this recess period. This is one of the differentiating factors between Supreme Court Judges and other court judges. As further elaborated by The Economist, unlike other judges who have to work all year long, Supreme Court Justices take the entire summer off. 

Therefore, while the law states that Supreme Court justices are only entitled to 30 days of annual leave, they do enjoy ample vacation time during the summer recess. 

Although the Supreme Court website explains that Supreme Court judges spend the recess period going over cases and writing opinions about any business brought before the court before the recess, The Economist points out that this is not entirely true. 

Accordingly, The Economist notes that the summer period between June and October is one of the busiest travel months for Supreme Court judges. Since there are only seven of them, it is not difficult to keep track of their travel schedules.

Additionally, unlike other branches of the US government, the Supreme Court is not obligated to provide notice of out-of-Washington appearances for the Supreme Court judges, which is a significant part of what these justices do during the summer recess. 

The courts stipulate that if a judge is absent from work to attend a conference, workshop, or authorized education program, it does not fall within the definition of vacation as long as the presiding judge has authorized it. 

Keeping the above in mind, while the Supreme Court Justices are entitled to only 30 days of annual leave, they, in practice, have almost a quarter of the year for vacationing. 

How Much Vacation Time Do Trial Court Judges Get?

Trial Court judges get four weeks of vacation time, which amounts to 20 days. However, if the trial court judge has served for five years within this capacity, they are entitled to five weeks of annual leave (25 days).

It is important to note that trial court judges include state and federal court level judges, including the court of appeal judges, superior court judges, and lower court judges. 

According to nycourts.gov, these annual leave provisions not only apply to trial court judges but also to the justice of a trial court under the Unified Court System. Accordingly, they will be entitled to 20 days or 25 days of annual leave, depending on the length of tenure, as discussed above. 

The number of vacation days, however, differs from state to state. For instance, while a judge in New York is entitled to 20 days or 25 days depending on whether they have served for more than five years, the California courts adopt a different structure as follows. 

A judge with less than seven years of experience in the California courts is entitled to 24 days of annual leave or vacation time. Those with more than seven years of experience but less than 14 years are entitled to 27 days, and those with more than 14 years of experience are entitled to 30 days. 

The number of vacation days judges receive does not exceed 30. Provisions for vacation days are an integral part of planning because it is vital to determine when a given judge may not be available and plan for it. 

However, the presiding judge has the power to allow a judge to take a longer time off during exceptional circumstances, provided that these circumstances are documented. As explained on the California Courts website, these additional vacation days will equal the number of vacation days not taken by the judge during the previous year. 

Can Vacation Time Be Accumulated for Judges?

Vacation time cannot be accumulated for judges. Unlike state employees, the amount of vacation time that a judge does not take in any given calendar year cannot neither be accumulated or compensated for at the time of termination. 

Additionally, judges cannot accumulate more than 15 working days of vacation time in any given year. They also cannot carry over an excess of 30 working days in their aggregate.

All these vacation days that the judge accumulates in a given year accrues and is credited to the judge on the first day of the first month of the year, or on the day that the judge was first appointed. Therefore, these vacation days cannot be carried over from year to year.

The judge will forfeit any amount of vacation time that is accrued but not taken at the time of retirement or termination of employment. These provisions are in place to encourage judges to take their vacation days. 

However, there are exceptions, the most pertinent of which is the extraordinary hardship exception, which I will discuss below. 

Extraordinary Hardship Exception

A review of the Alaska court vacation accrual rules notes that although the judicial leave policy holds that judges cannot carry more than 15 days of vacation time in one year or more than 30 days in aggregate, the extraordinary hardship exception can apply. 

This exception applies on a case-by-case basis, so the presiding judge will make a decision on individual cases as they see fit. 

In such instances, following approval from the administrative director, a judge or justice can accumulate more than 15 days and up to 30 days of vacation time in one calendar year. This exception also applies to working days carried over on aggregate, allowing up to 60 days. 

However, the judge must establish the following for this exception to apply:

  • That there were extraordinary hardships that did not allow the judge to take a minimum of 15 vacation days in a given year.
  • A plan must be submitted to the administrative director on how they will use the accumulated leave days during the upcoming year.

Importance of the Judicial Annual Leave Policy

As discussed in this article, the number of vacation days allowable for various officers of the court is stipulated in the judicial annual leave policy. The judicial annual leave/vacation policy has been put in place to hold judges accountable for their time away from the bench. 

Accordingly, each judge is expected to notify the Chief Judge or their designees of their intention to take judicial leave before going for annual leave via email or memo. This allows better planning, ensuring that the judge on vacation has a reliever.

Additionally, the judicial annual leave policy aims to ensure that judges have enough time away from the bench, not only in the interests of the judges themselves but also in the interest of proper judicial functioning. It is important to note that annual judicial leave only relates to the 30 days of paid yearly leave allowed for judges.

This annual leave or vacation does not encompass other leave days, including leave to serve on court committees, sick leave, educational leave, family medical leave, and others. Accordingly, the judicial leave policy identifies annual leave as the time judges will spend away from the courts to relax, rest or pursue their interests.

What Judges Do During Vacation

One of the common questions is what these judges do during their vacation time. While it may come as a surprise, many judges do not claim their vacation days and will frequently work throughout the year. 

Although vacation days cannot be carried over from one year to the other, and while taking vacation time is always recommended, it is not mandatory. 

Establishing a judicial annual leave policy is not a requirement by law but rather a voluntary action by the state court system; taking vacation days is also voluntary. 

While vacation time should essentially be a time to relax, many judges spend this time pursuing work-like endeavors. For instance, senior reporter Ephrat Livni of Quartz gives the example of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor, who spend their summer writing books.

Additionally, these Justices also spend their time conducting talks worldwide and teaching, all of which provide supplemental income. The Economist corroborates this, noting that Supreme Court justices have been known to make appearances worldwide, teaching various courses or holding speeches.

However, it is not uncommon to see Supreme Court judges pursue other income-generating endeavors over the summer holiday. As Ephrat Livni notes, the annual salary of $250,000 that the judges make is considered insufficient in many cases. 

In any case, the Supreme Court justices spend a considerable part of their vacation traveling, whether for work or leisure. However, there is limited information on what judges in the lower courts do on holiday, which may be primarily because they do not enjoy as much scrutiny as the Supreme Court justices and the fact that they also do not go on summer vacations.

Final Thoughts

All Judges, including those in the lower courts as well as the justices of the Supreme Court, are entitled to vacation days of up to 30 days. Admittedly, given the challenging nature of the job and the long working hours, judges deserve to have some time for rest and renewal. 

However, unlike other judges, Supreme Court judges enjoy more vacation time, allowed by the summer recess, which provides them with three months of ‘unofficial’ vacation time. They pursue their own income-generating endeavors and other personal pursuits.

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