Federal judges are judges who serve in a federal court. The term refers both to the Article III federal judges and to Article I federal judges, who serve as magistrate and bankruptcy judges, and in other Article III tribunals.
Federal judges, Article III
Article III federal judges are appointed for life, during "good behavior". They are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution of the United States Constitution.
Article III judges, besides serving in the Supreme Court of the United States also serve in:
- One of the thirteen U.S. courts of appeal.
- One of the ninety-four U.S. district courts.
- Judges of the Court of International Trade are also federal judges appointed under Article III of the U.S. Constitution.
Justices and judges of these courts exercise what Article III calls "the judicial power of the United States."
Article III, Section I of the U.S. Constitution states:
|“||The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.||”|
Federal judges, Article I
There are additional federal judges who were not appointed under Article III. These judges serve in Article I tribunals and they do not have the same protections as Article III judges:
- They do not have life tenure.
- Their salaries may be reduced by Congress.
Article I courts include:
- United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
- United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
- United States Tax Court
- United States Court of Federal Claims
- United States bankruptcy courts
- The U.S. territorial courts in the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the Virgin Islands.
- Main article: Federal judges on senior status
Senior judges are retired judges who, if they and their colleagues wish, may continue to hear cases and earn their full salary.
Federal judges are eligible for senior status at the following ages:
Federal judges who have not retired and who maintain a full caseload are sometimes referred to as "active judges" to distinguish them from the senior judges.
Process of becoming a federal judge
Federal judges are nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. There are multiple steps to the process:
- The President nominates a candidate for a judicial seat.
- The candidate fills out a questionnaire and is reviewed the by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
- The Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing with the candidate, questioning them about such things as their judicial philosophy, past rulings or opinions, etc.
- After the hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote to approve or return the candidate.
- If the Committee votes to return the candidate to the President, the President has the opportunity to re-nominate the candidate.
- If approved, the nominee is voted on by the full Senate.
- If the Senate does not confirm the nomination, that candidate will not receive a judgeship at that time.
- If the Senate confirms the nomination, the candidate receives a commission to serve a lifelong position as a federal judge.
Number of federal judges
- Supreme Court of the United States: 9 justices, as set by the Judiciary Act of 1869.
- United States court of appeals: 179 judgeships
- United States district court: 677 judgeships
- United States Court of International Trade: 9 judgeships
- United States bankruptcy court: 350 judgeships
- Federal magistrate judge: There are 517 full-time and 42 part-time magistrate judgeships.
There are almost no formal qualifications for federal judges. Article I magistrate and bankruptcy judges are required by statute to be lawyers, but there is no such requirement for district judges, circuit judges, or Supreme Court justices.
- Article III of the United States Constitution
- Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute, 28 USC § 371 - Retirement on salary; retirement in senior status
- Federal Judiciary Frequently Asked Questions
- U.S. Courts chart of Federal Judgeships, 2008
- United States Courts, Federal Judgeships
- Federal Judicial Center, History of the Federal Judiciary: Bankruptcy Judgeships
- Federal Judicial Center, History of the Federal Judiciary, Magistrate Judgeships