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In the United States, federal judges are judges who serve on courts established under Article Three of the U.S. Constitution. Often known as "Article Three judges", they include the chief justice and 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.
Unlike the President and Vice President of the United States and the U.S. Senators and Representatives, U.S. federal judges are not elected officials. They are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, pursuant to the Appointments Clause of Article Two of the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Constitution gives federal judges life tenure, and they hold their seats until they die, resign, or are removed from office by impeachment.
The term "federal judge" generally does not refer to 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 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 agency administrative law judges. These judges are often known as "Article One judges". Although they 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.
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.
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. Federal judges hold their seats until they resign, die, or are removed from office by impeachment. Although the legal orthodoxy is that judges cannot be removed from office except by Congressional impeachment, several legal scholars, including William Rehnquist, 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.
As of 2022, federal district judges are paid $223,400 a year, circuit judges $236,900, Associate Justices of the Supreme Court $274,200 and the Chief Justice of the United States $286,700.
Chief Justice John Roberts 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".The problem is that the most talented 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 judiciary subject to regulatory capture.
Thus, Chief Justice 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."
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. 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.)
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 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 may exercise its authority under the judicial discipline provisions as a conference, or through a standing committee appointed by the chief justice.
Once a judge meets age and service requirements they may retire and will then earn their final salary for the remainder of their 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, as set forth in Title 28 of the U.S. Code, section 371(c). Beginning at age 65, a judge may retire at their 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.
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 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.In addition, some district court judges serve on more than one court at a time.
Unlike the judges of Article III courts, non-Article III judges are appointed for specified terms of office. Examples include United States magistrate judges and judges of the United States bankruptcy courts, United States Tax Court, United States Court of Federal Claims, and United States territorial courts. 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."
Article Three of the United States Constitution establishes the judicial branch of the federal government. Under Article Three, the judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court of the United States, as well as lower courts created by Congress. Article Three empowers the courts to handle cases or controversies arising under federal law, as well as other enumerated areas. Article Three also defines treason.
The United States courts of appeals are the intermediate appellate courts of the United States federal judiciary. There are 13 U.S. courts of appeals, which are divided into 11 numbered circuits that cover geographic areas of the United States and hear appeals from the U.S. district courts within their borders, plus the District of Columbia Circuit, which covers only Washington, D.C., and the Federal Circuit, which hears appeals from federal courts across the United States in cases involving certain specialized areas of law. The courts of appeals also hear appeals from some administrative agency decisions and rulemaking, with by far the largest share of these cases heard by the D.C. Circuit. Appeals from decisions of the courts of appeals can be taken to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The United States district courts are the trial courts of the U.S. federal judiciary. There is one district court for each federal judicial district, which each cover one U.S. state or, in some cases, a portion of a state. Each district court has at least one courthouse, and many districts have more than one. District courts' decisions are appealed to the U.S. court of appeals for the circuit in which they reside, except for certain specialized cases that are appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit is a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following districts:
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is one of the thirteen United States Courts of Appeals. It has the smallest geographical jurisdiction of any of the U.S. federal appellate courts, and covers only one district court: the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It meets at the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, near Judiciary Square, Washington, D.C.
The Judiciary Act of 1789 was a United States federal statute enacted on September 24, 1789, during the first session of the First United States Congress. It established the federal judiciary of the United States. Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution prescribed that the "judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and such inferior Courts" as Congress saw fit to establish. It made no provision for the composition or procedures of any of the courts, leaving this to Congress to decide.
The United States District Court for the District of Montana is the United States District Court whose jurisdiction is the state of Montana. The court is located in Billings, Butte, Great Falls, Helena and Missoula.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit is a United States court of appeals that has special appellate jurisdiction over certain types of specialized cases in the U.S. federal court system. It has exclusive appellate jurisdiction over all U.S. federal cases involving patents, trademarks, government contracts, veterans' benefits, public safety officers' benefits, federal employees' benefits, and various other categories. Unlike other federal courts, the Federal Circuit has no jurisdiction over cases involving criminal, bankruptcy, immigration, or U.S. state law.
The Midnight Judges Act represented an effort to solve an issue in the U.S. Supreme Court during the early 19th century. There was concern, beginning in 1789, about the system that required the Justices of the Supreme Court to "ride circuit" and reiterate decisions made in the appellate level courts. The Supreme Court Justices had often expressed concern and suggested that the judges of the Supreme and circuit courts be divided. The Act was repealed by Congress on January 22, 1802.
The federal judiciary of the United States is one of the three branches of the federal government of the United States organized under the United States Constitution and laws of the federal government. Article III of the Constitution requires the establishment of a Supreme Court and permits the Congress to create other federal courts and place limitations on their jurisdiction. Article III states that federal judges are appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate to serve until they resign, are impeached and convicted, or die.
The appointment of federal judges for United States federal courts is done via nomination by the President of the United States and confirmation by the United States Senate. The tables below provide the composition of all Article III courts which include the Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeals at the end of each four year presidential term, as well as the current compositions of the District Courts and the Court of International Trade, categorizing the judges by the presidential term during which they were first appointed to their seats.
Federal judges are judges appointed by a federal level of government as opposed to the state/provincial/local level.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Maine is the U.S. district court for the state of Maine. The District of Maine was one of the original thirteen district courts established by the Judiciary Act of 1789, even though Maine was not a separate state from Massachusetts until 1820. The court is headquartered at the Edward T. Gignoux United States Courthouse in Portland, Maine and has a second courthouse in Bangor, Maine.
The United States District Court for the District of Idaho is the Federal district court whose jurisdiction comprises the state of Idaho. Court is held in Boise, Coeur d'Alene, and Pocatello. Cases from the District of Idaho are appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The Government of Guam (GovGuam) is a presidential representative democratic system, whereby the President is the head of state and the Governor is head of government, and of a multi-party system. Guam is an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States with policy relations between Guam and the US under the jurisdiction of the Office of Insular Affairs.
United States v. More, 7 U.S. 159 (1805), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that it had no jurisdiction to hear appeals from criminal cases in the circuit courts by writs of error. Relying on the Exceptions Clause, More held that Congress's enumerated grants of appellate jurisdiction to the Court operated as an exercise of Congress's power to eliminate all other forms of appellate jurisdiction.
Federal judge salaries in the United States are determined by the United States Congress and are governed in part by the United States Constitution, depending in part on the court on which the judge sits. In particular, United States federal judges confirmed under Article III of the Constitution have compensation that "shall not be diminished during their continuance in office." Other federal judges have salaries that may be adjusted without direct constitutional constraints, however statutory schemes usually govern these salaries. Debates over judicial salaries and their increase and treatment have occurred since the ratification of the Constitution.