Judges in the United States

The methods used for judicial selection vary more widely. Executive appointment is used for all federal judges with the advice and consent of the Senate. The federal judicial selection process involves more participants than the constitutional provisions might suggest. It also varies depending on the level of the federal court having the vacancy. Several states also use executive appointment as the formally designated selection method. The number is misleadingly low, however, because executive appointment is used in most elective states to fill all unexpired judicial terms. In addition to executive appointment, there are a few states that use a legislative appointment process. More than half the states use elections to select judges, splitting almost equally between partisan and nonpartisan ballots. Finally, there is the Missouri Plan, which combines gubernatorial appointment, election, and substantial influence by the legal profession.

The judicial selection processes do not differ that markedly in practice. They are all subject to political pressures and state governors tend to play a strong role in the various processes, including the elective, because of the power to fill vacancies that occur before a term expires. While none of the states grant life tenure to judges as the federal system does, incumbents are virtually certain of reelection or reappointment in state systems. In addition, there seems to be no real difference in the kinds of judges selected by the various techniques when compared, for example, on the basis of education or previous judicial experience. If there is a difference in impact, it may be seen in the behavior of judges once they take the bench. There is some evidence that suggests that judges in election states are more attentive to public opinion.

Bankruptcy Judges

By the Federal Judicial Center

“Bankruptcy judges serve as judicial officers of the U.S. district courts and constitute the bankruptcy court for their respective districts. The U.S. court of appeals for each circuit appoints bankruptcy judges to renewable fourteen-year terms. The number of bankruptcy judgeships is determined by Congress, which receives periodic advice from the Judicial Conference of the United States on the need for additional judges. As of September 2012, there were 350 bankruptcy judgeships, including 34 temporary judgeships, authorized for the districts.

The position of bankruptcy judge was established by Congress in 1978 as part of broad legislation that reorganized the nation’s bankruptcy system (92 Stat. 2657). Under the Bankruptcy Act of 1898, referees appointed by district judges oversaw the administration of bankruptcy cases in the district courts, and a series of subsequent acts increased the judicial duties of the referees. In 1973 the Supreme Court issued rules that recognized the importance of these judicial duties and applied the title of bankruptcy judge to the referees. Also in 1973, the congressionally chartered Commission on Bankruptcy Laws of the United States recommended the formal establishment of bankruptcy judgeships to preside over judicial proceedings related to bankruptcy in courts that would be independent of the U.S. district courts. The commission called for the appointment of executive branch officers to carry out administrative responsibilities related to bankruptcy cases.

Over the next five years, Congress considered a range of bills to establish bankruptcy courts with their own judges. Much of the debate concerned the method of appointment and terms of service for bankruptcy judges. The Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 established bankruptcy courts in each judicial district, with bankruptcy judges appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate for terms of fourteen years. The act relieved the bankruptcy judges of the administrative duties of the referee system and established a pilot program for U.S. trustees who would assume these responsibilities. The act also set a transition period within which those appointed under the referee system would continue in office until March 31, 1984, or until a successor took office. Upon full implementation of the act in 1984, two bankruptcy judges were to serve on the Judicial Conference of the United States.

In 1982, in Northern Pipeline Construction Co. v. Marathon Pipe Line Co. (458 U.S. 50), the Supreme Court decided that it was unconstitutional for Congress to grant bankruptcy jurisdiction to independent courts composed of judges who did not have the protections of Article III, but the Court postponed the application of its judgment so that Congress could enact legislation to restructure the bankruptcy courts. The Bankruptcy Amendments and Federal Judgeship Act of 1984 (98 Stat. 333) made the courts of appeals responsible for the appointment of bankruptcy judges and declared that the bankruptcy judges “shall serve as judicial officers of the United States district court established under Article III of the Constitution.” Although the bankruptcy judges constituted a bankruptcy court under the terms of the new statute, Congress reserved for the district courts certain jurisdiction over bankruptcy proceedings in order to meet the concerns expressed by the Supreme Court. In 2011, in Stern v. Marshall (131 S. Ct. 2494), the Supreme Court found that Congress’ grant of jurisdiction to bankruptcy judges exceeded the limitations of Article III with respect to certain counterclaims filed by an estate.

The act of 1984 authorized the Judicial Conference to establish qualifications for bankruptcy judges and authorized the circuit councils to establish merit selection committees to recommend nominees for bankruptcy judgeships. The act included no provision for the representation of bankruptcy judges on the Judicial Conference. In 1997 the National Bankruptcy Review Commission, established by Congress to consider further reforms of the bankruptcy system, recommended that the bankruptcy courts be established under Article III of the Constitution. The subsequent legislation introduced in Congress, however, did not adopt this recommendation that would have extended to bankruptcy judges the protections of life tenure and immunity from any reduction in salary.”

Female Judges

by Rachel Glas

Despite its reputation for encouraging diversity, California’s record of putting female judges on the bench is barely above average, according to the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ). Women make up 34 percent of the State Bar’s membership but only 28 percent of California’s 1,774 judges–putting the state behind others such as Vermont, Rhode Island, Hawaii, and Montana. But California’s numbers may yet improve.

Thanks to mentoring programs, seminars, and outreach efforts by groups founded by California’s female judges, the percentage of women presiding over the state’s courts has risen in the past three decades, says Orange County Superior Court Judge Marjorie Laird Carter, who is president of the NAWJ. “These organizations have demystified the process of becoming a judge and helped interested women get involved and informed,” she says.

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also did his part. In his final year in office, 40 percent of his judicial appointments were women, the most in state history.

Women Judges Percentage

  • Vermont: 40 %
  • Hawaii, Montana, Rhode Island: 34 %
  • Nevada, New York, South Carolina, Washington: 30 %
  • California: 28 %
  • U.S. average: 26 %
  • Texas: 25 %
  • Mississippi: 17 %
  • South Dakota: 13 %
  • Idaho: 11 %

Source: 2010 Representation of United States State Court Women Judges.

Judges and the Courts Online Resources

Judges, although they’re at the top of the justice system, often seem to be at the bottom of the Internet when it comes to available resources. In fact, the number of sites devoted to judges has declined in the past two years. However, the existing sites have become more responsive to the specific requirements of the justice system.

The first step on the Web for California judges should be the Judicial Council’s California Courts site (www.courtinfo.ca.gov/), the state courts’ official online home. Judges should make themselves familiar with the constantly changing news and resources available at this rich location. Among the essentials are the most recent California Rules of Court www.courtinfo.ca.gov/rules/), available in hyperlinked HTML and Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF) versions. To see PDF files, you must have the Acrobat Reader browser plug-in, available free from Adobe’s page (www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html). Among the other current documents are the California Code of Judicial Ethics(www.courtinfo.ca.gov/rules/2001/appendix/appdiv2.pdf) in PDF, the Commission on Judicial Performance Rules (www.courtinfo.ca.gov/reference/rules.htm), and the Commission on Judicial Performance Policy Declarations (www.courtinfo.ca.gov/reference/documents/policy.pdf).

With the explosion of cable television channels hungry for content, and with the Internet offering increasingly more video, judges should have a sense of what the standards are for handling the media. Cameras in the Courtroom: Report on Rule 980 (www.courtinfo.ca.gov/reference/documents/cameras.pdf), Photographing, Recording, and Broadcasting in the Courtroom, offered in either HTML (www.courtinfo.ca.gov/reference/cameras-toc.htm) or PDF (www.courtinfo.ca.gov/reference/documents/cameras.pdf) and the Report on the Application of Video Technology in the California Courts (www.courtinfo.ca.gov/reference/documents/videoreport.pdf) are good places to start.

The Judicial Council has much more, including sections with current opinions from the appellate courts (www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/), Judicial Council forms in PDF (www.courtinfo.ca.gov/forms/), addresses and telephone numbers of the appellate courts (www.courtinfo.ca.gov/courts/courtsofappeal), and a large reference area (www.courtinfo.ca.gov/reference/). There are problems, though, especially with certain PDF files. For example, Bench Handbook: Jury Management (www.courtinfo.ca.gov/reference/documents/benchjury.pdf) froze my browser every time I tried to access it, and several documents automatically scrolled to the top of the file whenever I stopped scrolling down. It’s an exasperating glitch. However, it does seem to behave better on faster machines with plenty of RAM and a DSL connection.

California judges should also get into the habit of checking into the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) (www.ncsconline.org/) in Williamsburg, Virginia. The NCSC doesn’t have the local detail of the Judicial Council, but it does provide a better macro perspective about trends in the judiciary. Another element here, lacking in California, are the links to affiliate organizations, including the Conference of Chief Justices (ccj.ncsc.dni.us/), the American Judges Association (aja.ncsc.dni.us/), the National College of Probate Judges (www.ncpj.org/), the National Association of Women Judges (www.ncsc.dni.us/COSCA/coscaros.htm/), the National Association for Court Management (www.nacmnet.org/), and the National Conference of Appellate Court Clerks (www.ncsc.dni.us/ncacc/index.html).

On the federal level, Title 28-Judiciary and Judicial Procedure (http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/casecode/uscodes/28/toc.html or www.4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/28/) of the U.S. Code spells out the duties and organizational structure of the federal courts. The Office of Administrative Law Judges (www.oalj.dol.gov/) is clearly directed at a niche group, but it’s a site worth your time and a model for judges associations that are thinking about initiating a Web presence. The International Association of Lesbian & Gay Judges (home.att.net/~ialgj/), founded in 1993, attempts to eliminate sexual orientation as a factor in the appointment and perception of judges. Membership includes judges from across the nation and around the world. The Federal Court Clerks Association (www.id.uscourts.gov/fcca.htmM) is important to judges because the two are bonded in a symbiotic relationship.

Check out the Federal Justice Statistics Resource Center (http://fjsrc.urban.org/) and Courts and Sentencing Statistics (www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/stssent.htm) from the U.S. Justice Department Bureau of Justice Statistics. The U.S. Sentencing Commission (www.ussc.gov/) in Washington, D.C., provides sentencing data, along with reports to Congress and other material.

Top Websites:

  • judges.org/ (National Judicial College)
  • http://jeritt.msu.edu/ (JERITT-Judicial Education Reference, Information and Technical Transfer Project)
  • http://nasje.unm.edu/ (National Association of State Judicial Educators)

Legal Materials

Detailed information posted, about Judges, on the American Almanac, deals with the following subjects:

  • Biographical Information
  • Commissioners and Magistrates
  • Dissents and Concurrences
  • Ethics Rules
  • Financial Disclosure Statements
  • Nominations and Confirmations
  • Reversals and Motions
  • Salaries

“A Judge Is More Independent” Explained


See Also

  • Jury System
  • Judge
  • Jury

Judges (Immunity From Liability)

This section introduces, discusses and describes the basics of judges. Then, cross references and a brief overview about Immunity From Liability is provided. Finally, the subject of Civil Rights Law in relation with judges is examined. Note that a list of cross references, bibliography and other resources appears at the end of this entry.

Judges (Judicial Officers)

This section introduces, discusses and describes the basics of judges. Then, cross references and a brief overview about Judicial Officers is provided. Finally, the subject of Civil Procedure in relation with judges is examined. Note that a list of cross references, bibliography and other resources appears at the end of this entry.

Finding the law: Judges in the U.S. Code

A collection of general and permanent laws relating to judges, passed by the United States Congress, are organized by subject matter arrangements in the United States Code (U.S.C.; this label examines judges topics), to make them easy to use (usually, organized by legal areas into Titles, Chapters and Sections). The platform provides introductory material to the U.S. Code, and cross references to case law. View the U.S. Code’s table of contents here.


See Also

    • Executive Appointment
    • Interim Appointment
    • Selection Process Impacts
    • Judicial Accountability
    • Judicial Independence
    • Judicature
    • Nominating Criteria
    • Judges Retirement Plan
    • District Court Judges
    • Judicial Vacancies
    • Life Tenure
    • Attorneys
    • Bar Admission
    • Compensation
    • Law Firms
    • Legal Ethics
    • State Courts

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Judges from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Judges in the Criminal Justice System

This section covers the topics below related with Judges :



“A Judge Is More Independent” Explained


See Also

  • Jury System
  • Judge
  • Jury


See Also

  • Courts
  • Personnel

United States Judges and the Federal Courts

In the words of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts: The work of the federal courts touches upon many of the most significant issues affecting the American people, and federal judges exercise wide authority and discretion in the cases over which they preside. This section discusses how federal judges are chosen, and provides basic information on judicial compensation, ethics, and the role of senior and recalled judges.

Judges: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Judges. This part provides references, in relation to Judges, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Judges by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Judges and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Judges or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Judges and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Judges. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Judges should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Judges when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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