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.
Article III federal judges are paid $174,000 a year.
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 says, "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."
Article III federal judges spend about half their time on criminal cases, which take precedence over civil lawsuits.
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.
These federal judges preside over these courts:
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. They typically maintin a reduced caseload. Most federal judges retired at sixty-five or seventy years of age. 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
The number of judge positions is set by the U.S. Congress, which authorizes a set number of judge positions, or judgeships, for each court level, making changes and adjustments in these numbers from time-to-time..,
- Congress authorized nine positions for the Supreme Court of the United States in 1869.
- As of December 2008, Congress had authorized 179 court of appeals judgeships.
- As of December 2008, Congress had authorized 678 district court judgeships.
- There are currently 352 bankruptcy judgeships.
- There are 551 full-time and part-time magistrate judgeships.
By way of comparison, in 1950, there were only 65 court of appeals judgeships and 212 district court 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.
How cases are assigned
Each court determines a procedure for assigning cases to judges. Most district and bankruptcy courts use a process of random assignment, which helps to ensure a fair distribution of cases and also prevents judge shopping.
Some courts assign cases by rotation, subject matter, or geographic division of the court. In the courts of appeals, cases are usually randomly assigned to three-judge panels.
The workload for individual federal judges in fiscal year 2008 was 394 per judge, an increase from 380 cases-per-judge in fiscal year 2007.