United States federal judges
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United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., ...
, federal judges are
judge A judge is a person who wiktionary:preside, presides over court proceedings, either alone or as a part of a Judicial panel, panel of judges. A judge hears all the witnesses and any other Evidence (law), evidence presented by the barristers or s ...
s who serve on courts established under Article Three of the U.S. Constitution. They include the chief justice and the associate justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, the circuit judges of the U.S. Courts of Appeals, the district judges of the U.S. District Courts, and the judges of the U.S. Court of International Trade. These judges are often called "Article Three judges". Unlike the
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and
vice president of the United States The vice president of the United States (VPOTUS) is the second-highest officer in the Executive branch of the United States government, executive branch of the U.S. federal government, after the president of the United States, and ranks first in ...
and U.S. senators and representatives, U.S. federal judges are not
elected officials An official is someone who holds an office (function or mandate, regardless whether it carries an actual working space with it) in an organization An organization or organisation ( Commonwealth English; see spelling differences), is an ...
. They are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, pursuant to the
Appointments Clause The Appointments Clause of Article II, Section 2, Clause 2, of the United States Constitution The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It superseded the Articles of Confederation, the ...
of Article Two of the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Constitution gives federal judges
life tenure A life tenure or service during good behaviour is a term of office A term of office, electoral term, or parliamentary term is the length of time a person serves in a particular elected office. In many jurisdictions there is a defined limit on ho ...
, and they hold their seats until they die, resign, or are removed from office by
impeachment Impeachment is the process by which a legislative body or other legally constituted tribunal initiates charges against a public official for misconduct. It may be understood as a unique process involving both political Politics (from , ...
. Strictly speaking, the term "federal judge" does not include U.S. magistrate judges or the judges of lesser federal tribunals such as the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces The United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (in case citations, C.A.A.F. or USCAAF) is an Article I tribunals, Article I court that exercises worldwide appellate jurisdiction over members of the United States Armed Forces on active ...
, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, the U.S. Tax Court, and other " Article One tribunals". Nor does it apply to U.S. government agencies'
administrative law judge An administrative law judge (ALJ) in the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. I ...
s. Although these judges serve on courts of the U.S. federal government, they do not have life tenure, and their authority derives from Congress via Article One of the Constitution, not independently via Article Three. These judges are often known as "Article One judges".


Appointments

According to the
Appointments Clause The Appointments Clause of Article II, Section 2, Clause 2, of the United States Constitution The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It superseded the Articles of Confederation, the ...
of Article Two of the U.S. Constitution, all federal judges, including the judges of the Supreme Court and inferior federal courts created by the Congress, shall be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The constitution does not provide any eligibility criteria — such as age,
literacy Literacy in its broadest sense describes "particular ways of thinking about and doing reading and writing" with the purpose of understanding or expressing thoughts or ideas in Writing, written form in some specific context of use. In other wo ...
,
citizenship Citizenship is a "relationship between an individual and a state to which the individual owes allegiance and in turn is entitled to its protection". Each state determines the conditions under which it will recognize persons as its citizens, and ...
,
legal education Legal education is the education of individuals in the principles, practices, and theory of law Law is a set of rules that are created and are law enforcement, enforceable by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior,Rober ...
, legal/ bar or any
professional certification Professional certification, trade certification, or professional designation, often called simply ''certification'' or ''qualification'', is a designation earned by a person to assure qualification to perform a job or task. Not all certifications ...
, and legal/judicial experience — for one to be appointed as a federal judge.


Powers and duties

The primary function of the federal judges is to resolve matters brought before the United States federal courts. Most federal courts in the United States are courts of limited jurisdiction, meaning that they hear only cases for which jurisdiction is authorized by the United States constitution or federal statutes. However, federal district courts are authorized to hear a wide range of civil and criminal cases. District court judges are recognized as having a certain degree of inherent authority to manage the matters before them, ranging from setting the dates for trials and hearings to holding parties in contempt or otherwise sanctioning them for improper behavior. In other circumstances their actions are dictated by federal law, the federal rules of procedure, or "local" rules created by the specific court system itself.


Tenure and salary

Section 1 of Article Three of the U.S. Constitution provides that federal judges "shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour". This clause has long been interpreted to give federal judges
life tenure A life tenure or service during good behaviour is a term of office A term of office, electoral term, or parliamentary term is the length of time a person serves in a particular elected office. In many jurisdictions there is a defined limit on ho ...
. Federal judges hold their seats until they resign, die, or are removed from office by
impeachment Impeachment is the process by which a legislative body or other legally constituted tribunal initiates charges against a public official for misconduct. It may be understood as a unique process involving both political Politics (from , ...
. Although the legal orthodoxy is that judges cannot be removed from office except by Congressional impeachment, several legal scholars, including
William Rehnquist William Hubbs Rehnquist ( ; October 1, 1924 – September 3, 2005) was an American attorney and jurist who served on the Supreme Court of the United States, U.S. Supreme Court for 33 years, first as an Associate justice of the Supreme Court of ...
, Saikrishna Prakash, and Steven D. Smith, have argued that the Good Behavior Clause may, in theory, permit removal by way of a writ of '' scire facias'' filed before a federal court, without resort to impeachment.
Deaths of United States federal judges in active service Deaths of United States federal judges in active service have profound political and procedural effects. Due to their implications for the political composition of the courts on which they serve, they can result in unexpected political conflicts r ...
may also have profound political and procedural effects, as such circumstances present substantially less opportunity for preparation for an orderly succession. As of 2022, federal judges' annual salaries are: $223,400 for district judges, $236,900 for circuit judges, $274,200 for associate Supreme Court justices, and $286,700 for the Chief Justice of the United States. Chief Justice
John Roberts John Glover Roberts Jr. (born January 27, 1955) is an American lawyer and jurist who has served as the 17th Chief Justice of the United States, chief justice of the United States since 2005. Roberts has authored the majority opinion in sever ...
has repeatedly pleaded for an increase in judicial pay, calling the situation "a constitutional crisis that threatens to undermine the strength and independence of the federal judiciary". For some partners at leading
law firm A law firm is a business entity formed by one or more lawyers to engage in the practice of law. The primary service rendered by a law firm is to advise consumer, clients (individuals or corporations) about their legal rights and Obligation, respon ...
s, especially in major metropolitan areas, becoming a federal judge can represent a more than 90 percent pay cut. Associates at the largest U.S. law firms with judicial clerkship experience already earn as much as a federal judge in their first year as full-time associates. When those attorneys eventually become experienced partners and reach the stage in life where one would normally consider switching to public service, their interest in joining the judiciary is tempered by the prospect of a giant pay cut back to what they were making 10 to 20 years earlier (adjusted for inflation). One way for attorneys to soften the financial blow is to spend only a few years on the bench and then return to private practice or go into private arbitration, but such turnover creates a risk of a
revolving door A revolving door typically consists of three or four doors that hang on a central shaft and rotate around a vertical axis within a cylindrical enclosure. Revolving doors are energy efficient as they, acting as an airlock, prevent drafts, thus d ...
judiciary subject to
regulatory capture In politics, regulatory capture (also agency capture and client politics) is a form of Political corruption, corruption of authority that occurs when a political entity, Legislator, policymaker, or regulatory agency, regulator is co-opted to serve ...
. Roberts has warned that "judges are no longer drawn primarily from among the best lawyers in the practicing bar" and "If judicial appointment ceases to be the capstone of a distinguished career and instead becomes a stepping stone to a lucrative position in private practice, the Framers' goal of a truly independent judiciary will be placed in serious jeopardy."


Duty station

Each federal judge serves at a particular "duty station" for the duration of his or her federal service. This is important because of the relationship among several federal statutes. First, 28 U.S.C. § 456(a) entitles federal judges to reimbursement of transportation and "subsistence" expenses incurred while transacting official business away from their duty stations. Section 456 also prescribes that the District of Columbia is the duty station of all members of the U.S. Supreme Court, the D.C. Circuit, the Federal Circuit, and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Second, there are several reasons federal judges need to transact official business outside of their regular courthouse. 28 U.S.C. §§ 291 and 292 authorize a broad variety of temporary reassignments of circuit and district judges, both horizontally (i.e., to other circuits or districts) and vertically (so that a district judge can hear appeals and a circuit judge can try cases). Many federal judges serve on administrative panels like the judicial council for their circuit or the
Judicial Conference of the United States The Judicial Conference of the United States, formerly known as the Conference of Senior Circuit Judges, was created by the United States Congress The United States Congress is the legislature of the federal government of the United State ...
. Some of the larger circuit courts like the Ninth Circuit hold regular sessions at multiple locations, and randomly select three-judge panels to hear appeals from all sitting circuit judges regardless of duty station. (Videoconferencing is sometimes now used to reduce the burden of frequent travel on circuit judges.)


Discipline

The discipline process of federal judges is initiated by the filing of a complaint by any person alleging that a judge has engaged in conduct "prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts, or alleging that such judge is unable to discharge all the duties of the office by reason of mental or physical disability." If the
chief judge A chief judge (also known as presiding judge, president judge or principal judge) is the highest-ranking or most senior member of a lower court or circuit court with more than one judge. According to the Federal judiciary of the United States, the ...
of the circuit does not dismiss the complaint or conclude the proceedings, then they must promptly appoint himself or herself, along with equal numbers of circuit judges and district judges, to a special committee to investigate the facts and allegations in the complaint. The committee must conduct such investigation as it finds necessary and then expeditiously file a comprehensive written report of its investigation with the judicial council of the circuit involved. Upon receipt of such a report, the judicial council of the circuit involved may conduct any additional investigation it deems necessary, and it may dismiss the complaint. If a judge who is the subject of a complaint holds their office during good behavior, action taken by the judicial council may include certifying disability of the judge. The judicial council may also, in its discretion, refer any complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 351, along with the record of any associated proceedings and its recommendations for appropriate action, to the
Judicial Conference of the United States The Judicial Conference of the United States, formerly known as the Conference of Senior Circuit Judges, was created by the United States Congress The United States Congress is the legislature of the federal government of the United State ...
. The Judicial Conference may exercise its authority under the judicial discipline provisions as a conference, or through a standing committee appointed by the chief justice.


Retirement

Once a judge meets age and service requirements he may retire and will then earn his final salary for the remainder of his life, plus cost-of-living increases. The "Rule of 80" is the commonly used shorthand for the age and service requirement for a judge to retire, or assume
senior status Senior status is a form of semi-retirement for United States federal judges. To qualify, a judge in the Federal judiciary of the United States, federal court system must be at least 65 years old, and the sum of the judge's age and years of servi ...
, as set forth in Title 28 of the U.S. Code, section 371(c). Beginning at age 65, a judge may retire at his current salary, or take senior status, after performing 15 years of active service as an Article III judge (65 + 15 = 80). A sliding scale of increasing age and decreasing service (66 + 14, 67 + 13, 68 + 12, 69 + 11) results in eligibility for retirement compensation at age 70 with a minimum of 10 years of service (70 + 10 = 80). Under section 376 a survivor's annuity to benefit the widow, widower or minor child of the judge may be purchased via a deduction of 2.2% to 3.5% from the retirement benefit.


Number of judges

There are currently 870 authorized Article III judgeships: nine on the Supreme Court, 179 on the courts of appeals, 673 for the district courts and nine on the
Court of International Trade The United States Court of International Trade (case citations: Int'l Trade or Intl. Trade) is a Federal judiciary of the United States, U.S. federal court that adjudicates civil actions arising out of U.S. customs and International trade law, ...
. The total number of active federal judges is constantly in flux, for two reasons. First, judges retire or die, and a lapse of time occurs before new judges are appointed to fill those positions. Second, from time to time Congress will increase (or, less frequently, decrease) the number of federal judgeships in a particular judicial district, usually in response to shifting population numbers or a changing workload in that district. Although the number of Supreme Court justices has remained the same for well over a century, the number of court of appeals judges has more than doubled since 1950, and the number of district court judges has increased more than three-fold in that period.Federal Judicial Center
In addition, some district court judges serve on more than one court at a time.


Non-Article III judges

Unlike the judges of Article III courts, non-Article III judges are appointed for specified terms of office. Examples include
United States magistrate judge In United States federal courts, magistrate judges are judges appointed to assist United States district court, U.S. district court judges in the performance of their duties. Magistrate judges generally oversee first appearances of criminal defe ...
s and judges of the
United States bankruptcy court United States bankruptcy courts are Federal tribunals in the United States, courts created under Article I of the United States Constitution. The current system of bankruptcy courts was created by the United States Congress in 1978, effective Ap ...
s,
United States Tax Court The United States Tax Court (in case citation Case citation is a system used by legal professionals to identify past court case A legal case is in a general sense a dispute between opposing parties which may be resolved by a court ...
,
United States Court of Federal Claims The United States Court of Federal Claims (in case citations, Fed. Cl. or C.F.C.) is a United States federal courts, United States federal court that hears monetary claims against the Federal government of the United States, U.S. government. It ...
, and
United States territorial court The United States territorial courts are tribunals established in territories of the United States Territories of the United States are sub-national administrative divisions overseen by the federal government of the United States. ...
s. Although the term "non-Article III judges" is used to describe the absence of tenure and salary protection, bankruptcy courts are formally designated as divisions of U.S. District Courts, whose district judges are Article III judicial officers. Moreover, in ''Freytag v. Commissioner'', 501 U.S. 868 (1991), the Supreme Court concluded that the judges of the U.S. Tax Court (and their special trial judges) exercise a portion of "the judicial power of the United States."


See also

* Judicial appointment history for United States federal courts * List of United States federal judges by longevity of service * List of current United States Circuit Judges *
List of current United States district judges The following is a list of all current judges of the United States district A district is a type of administrative division that, in some countries, is managed by the local government. Across the world, areas known as "districts" vary grea ...
*
Federal judiciary of the United States The federal judiciary of the United States is one of the three branches of the federal government of the United States organized under the Constitution of the United States, United States Constitution and Law of the United States, laws of the fed ...
*
Article Three of the United States Constitution Article Three of the United States Constitution establishes the Federal judiciary of the United States, judicial branch of the Federal government of the United States, U.S. federal government. Under Article Three, the judicial branch consists of t ...
* PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) *
CM/ECF CM/ECF (Case Management/Electronic Case Files) is the Law practice management software, case management and electronic court filing system for most of the United States federal courts. PACER (law), PACER, an acronym for ''Public Access to Court E ...
(Case Management/Electronic Case Files) *
List of courts of the United States The courts of the United States are closely linked hierarchical systems of courts at the federal and state levels. The United States federal courts, federal courts form the judicial branch of the US government and operate under the authority of the ...
(outline of all state and federal courts in the United States) *
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (officially abbreviated Fed. R. Civ. P.; colloquially FRCP) govern civil procedure Civil procedure is the body of law that sets out the rules and standards that court A court is any person or insti ...
*
Uniformity and jurisdiction in U.S. federal court tax decisions Uniformity may refer to: * Distribution uniformity Distribution uniformity or DU in irrigation is a measure of how uniformly water is applied to the area being watered, normally expressed as percentage, and not to be confused with efficiency. T ...


References

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External links


Judicial Financial Disclosure Reports
{{U.S. Presidents and the Judiciary