When an ATA member contacted the Advocacy Committee in February 2023 to tell us that court interpreters in South Carolina hadn’t received any raises in almost two decades, we wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of the Palmetto State to express our concerns. Thanks to the advocacy efforts of the hardworking interpreters in South Carolina and the support of this letter, the Chief Justice ordered a 36% increase in wages for court interpreters in the Palmetto State.
Since then, we learned about South Carolina State Senate Bill 52 (S. 52), which aims to amend the South Carolina Code of Laws to fix judicial salaries in proportion to those received by federal district court judges. Last week, we wrote to the Chief Justice again to let him know that this is not only a good idea for judges, but for court interpreters as well. To our knowledge, no similar such arrangement exists.
Why Did We Do This?
The federal judiciary sets a benchmark for both quality and compensation, and the South Carolina judiciary is seeking to place itself on par. The proper adjustment of salaries has implications far beyond fairness to individual judges. For example, if salaries are too low, only those with means will be financially able to assume judicial posts. This will negatively impact the diversity of the judiciary and discriminate against those who are well qualified and interested in serving, but nonetheless unable to aspire to such a career because of financial hardship from unfair compensation. We believe these principles could also be applied to the compensation levels for court interpreters in South Carolina.
Why is This a Novel Idea?
While traditional wage comparisons are done for jobs in similar situations (in this case, state courts), we thought that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If federal court interpreter fees were applied in South Carolina ($320 for a half day and $566 for a full day), court interpreters in the Palmetto State would receive a $320 minimum, up from the current $130 minimum. By offering such rates, the federal courts provide fair compensation to interpreters who reserve blocks of time for them and are unable to accept other assignments. The South Carolina courts should do the same for their own.
What Can Interpreters in South Carolina Do?
We encourage all ATA members in South Carolina to contact their state senators now to tell them why this bill is good for equal pay practices, not only for judges in South Carolina, but also for court interpreters, perhaps the most diverse worker class in the courts. You can start with the following talking points and add your own, based on your experience working in South Carolina:
- If federal pay parity applies for judges, it should also apply to court interpreters.
- Funding language access properly will help ensure that Deaf and immigrant court users continue to receive highly skilled professional interpreters.
- By doubling the $190,000 annual language access budget, the legislature could easily provide enough resources for language access to flourish in the courts.
First, contact the Senate Judiciary Committee to let them know that funding language access in the South Carolina courts is just as important as funding its judiciary. By adding court interpreters to the state–federal pay parity plan, the South Carolina Senate could help ensure a diverse working class is included in its appropriation practices—for just $190,000 a year!
Then, click here to find who represents you and write to their office, call their staffers, and set up a meeting to talk about amending S. 52, or drafting a new bill, to fix state court interpreter compensation to what is received by federal court interpreters. Let them know that their legislative support would help more Deaf, hard of hearing, and immigrant court users receive language access from highly skilled interpreters working in the South Carolina courts.