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In the United States, the title of federal judge usually means a judge appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the United States Senate in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution.

In addition to the Supreme Court of the United States, whose existence and some aspects of whose jurisdiction are beyond the constitutional power of Congress to alter, acts of Congress have established 13 courts of appeals (also called "circuit courts") with appellate jurisdiction over different regions of the United States, and 94 United States district courts. Every judge appointed to such a court falls within the category of federal judges. These include the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, Circuit Judges of the courts of appeals, and district judges of the United States district courts. In addition, judges of the Court of International Trade are appointed pursuant to Article III.

Other judges serving in the federal courts, including magistrate judges and bankruptcy judges, are also sometimes referred to as "federal judges." However, they are not appointed pursuant to the procedures designated in Article III. The distinction is sometimes expressed by saying that they are not "Article III judges," because the power of these other kinds of federal judges does not derive from Article III of the U.S. Constitution. See Article I and Article III tribunals.


Tenure and salary

"Article III federal judges" (as opposed to judges of some courts with special jurisdictions) serve "during good behavior" (often paraphrased as appointed "for life"). Judges hold their seats until they resign, die, or are removed from office. Although the legal orthodoxy is that judges cannot be removed from office except by impeachment by the House of Representatives followed by conviction by the Senate, several legal scholars, including William Rehnquist, Saikrishna Prakash and Steven D. Smith, have argued that the Good Behaviour Clause may, in theory, permit removal by way of a writ of scire facias filed before a federal court, without resort to impeachment.

Since the impeachment process requires a trial by the United States Senate, and since the constitutional provision concerning federal judges' tenure cannot be changed without the ratifications of three-fourths of the states, federal judges have perhaps the best job security available in the United States. Moreover, the Constitution forbids Congress to diminish a federal judge's salary. Twentieth-century experience suggests that Congress is generally unwilling to take time out of its busy schedule to impeach and try a federal judge until, after criminal conviction, he or she is already in prison and still drawing a salary, which cannot otherwise be taken away (see Nixon v. United States, a key Supreme Court case about Congress's discretion in impeaching and trying federal judges).

As of January 2008, federal district judges were paid $169,300 a year, circuit judges $179,500, Associate Justices of the Supreme Court $208,100 and the Chief Justice of the United States $217,400. All were permitted to earn a maximum of an additional $21,000 a year for teaching.[1]

Chief Justice John Roberts has repeatedly pleaded for an increase in judicial pay, calling the situation a "constitution crisis." He 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."[2]

Number of judges

The total number of active federal judges is constantly in flux, for two reasons. First, judges retire or die, and a lapse of time usually 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.

As of January 2009, a total of 3,168 individuals had been appointed to federal judgeships, including 2,645 district court judges, 687 courts of appeals judges, 50 judges to the now-extinct circuit courts, and the 110 Supreme Court justices. This adds up to 3,492 total appointments; a substantial number of appellate judges (including Supreme Court justices) had previously served on the lower court bench.[3]

There are currently 875 authorized Article III judgeships: nine on the Supreme Court, 179 on the courts of appeals, and 9 on the court of international trade and 678 for the district courts. 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 times in that period.[3]

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 judges and judges of the United States bankruptcy courts, United States Tax Court, United States Court of Federal Claims, and United States territorial courts.

See also


External links



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