Federal Judges/General Court FAQs

Q. Who appoints federal judges?
Q: How are new judgeships created?
Q: What are the qualifications for becoming a federal judge?
Q: How is a chief judge selected?
Q: What is a senior judge?
Q: What are bankruptcy judges? How are they appointed?
Q: What are federal magistrate judges?
Q: How many courts of appeals are there?
Q: How many district courts are there?
Q. How do I file a complaint against a judge?




Q. Who appoints federal judges? (back to top)
Supreme Court justices, court of appeals judges, and district court judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate, as stated in the Constitution. The names of potential nominees often are recommended by senators or sometimes members of the House who are of the President's political party. The Senate Judiciary Committee typically conducts confirmation hearings for each nominee. Article III of the Constitution states that these judicial officers are appointed for a life term. The federal Judiciary, the Judicial Conference of the United States, and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts play no role in the nomination and confirmation process.

Q: How are new judgeships created? (back to top)
Court of appeals and district court judgeships are created by legislation that must be enacted by Congress. New judgeships were last created in December 1990, under Public Law 101-650, which established 11 new court of appeals and 74 new district court judgeships. The Judicial Conference (through its Judicial Resources Committee) surveys the judgeship needs of the courts every other year. A threshold for the number of weighted filings per judgeship is the key factor in determining when an additional judgeship will be requested. Other factors may include geography, number of senior judges, and mix of cases. The Judicial Conference presents its judgeship recommendations to Congress.

Q: What are the qualifications for becoming a federal judge? (back to top)
The Constitution sets forth no specific requirements. However, members of Congress, who typically recommend potential nominees, and the Department of Justice, which reviews nominees' qualifications, have developed their own informal criteria.

Q: How is a chief judge selected? (back to top)
One is not nominated or appointed to the position of chief judge (except for the Chief Justice of the United States); they assume the position based on seniority. The same criteria exists for circuit and district chiefs. The chief judge is the judge in regular active service who is senior in commission of those judges who are (1) 64 years of age or under; (2) have served for one year or more as a judge; and (3) have not previously served as chief judge.

Q: What is a senior judge? (back to top)
The "Rule of 80" is the commonly used shorthand for the age and service requirement for a judge to assume senior status, as set forth in Title 28 of the US. Code, Section 371(c). Beginning at age 65, a judge may retire at his or her 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 results in eligibility for retirement compensation at age 70 with a minimum of 10 years of service (70+10=80). Senior judges, who essentially provide volunteer service to the courts, typically handle about 15 percent of the federal courts' workload annually.

Q: What are bankruptcy judges? How are they appointed? (back to top)
A U.S. bankruptcy judge is a judicial officer of the U.S. district court who is appointed by the majority of judges of the U.S. court of appeals to exercise jurisdiction over bankruptcy matters. The number of bankruptcy judges is determined by Congress. The Judicial Conference of the United States is required to submit recommendations from time to time regarding the number of bankruptcy judges needed. Bankruptcy judges are appointed for 14-year terms.

Q: What are federal magistrate judges? (back to top)
A U.S. magistrate judge is a judicial officer of the district court and is appointed by majority vote of the active district judges of the court to exercise jurisdiction over matters assigned by statute as well as those delegated by the district judges. The number of magistrate judge positions is determined by the Judicial Conference of the United States, based on recommendations of the respective district courts, the judicial councils of the circuits, and the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. A full-time magistrate judge serves a term of eight years. Duties assigned to magistrate judges by district court judges may vary considerably from court to court.

Q: How many courts of appeals are there? (back to top)
There are 13 judicial circuits, each with a court of appeals. The smallest court is the First Circuit with six judgeships, and the largest court is the Ninth Circuit, with 28 judgeships. A list of the states that compose each circuit is set forth in Title 28 of the U.S. Code, Section 41. The number of judgeships in each circuit is set forth in Title 28 of the U.S. Code, Section 44.

Q: How many district courts are there? (back to top)
There are 89 districts in the 50 states, which are listed with their divisions in Title 28 of the U.S. Code, Sections 81-144. District courts also exist in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. In total there are 94 U.S. district courts. Some states, such as Alaska, are composed of a single judicial district. Others, such as California, are composed of multiple judicial districts. The number of judgeships allotted to each district is set forth in Title 28 of the U.S. Code, Section 133.

Q: How do I file a complaint against a judge? (back to top)
The complaint process is not intended to address complaints related to the merits of a case or a court's decision. Any person alleging that a judge of the United States has engaged in conduct prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts, or that such officer cannot discharge all the duties of the office because of physical or mental disability, may file a complaint with the clerk of the court of appeals for that circuit or applicable national court. The statute governing this complaint mechanism is set out at Title 28, U.S. Code, Section 372(c).