Knowledgable. Fair. A reflection of the communities they serve. Judges play an essential role at all levels of the U.S. judicial system.
Judges are key to the fight for civil rights
In the U.S. judicial system, judges are tasked with presiding over trials and maintaining order. They also review whether or not there are any illegality issues per the evidence submitted. Judges provide instructions to juries prior to their deliberations and in the case of bench trials, judges must decide the facts of the case and make a ruling. Additionally, judges are also responsible for sentencing convicted criminal defendants. Most cases are heard and settled by a jury.
About half of all judges are chosen by the president, including the Supreme Court justices and district judges. All are meant to ensure that everyone gets a fair shot at justice, no matter the color of their skin, their background, or their bank account.
Judges in federal courts, from district courts up to the U.S. Supreme Court, have the final say on issues that have an effect on the lives of every American, including basic civil rights, religious freedoms, voting rights, affirmative action, and in some cases, life or death. They lead court proceedings, use established laws and guidance to determine sentencing, and rule on the constitutionality of various laws and legal precedents.
We must ensure that anyone who serves as a judge is fair minded. We should pay close attention to all judicial nominations. In recent years, a concentrated attempt has been made to pack the district and circuit courts with extreme, right-wing judges. Given the large number of cases whose ultimate determination is made at the District or Court of Appeals level (over 90%), and the fact that some people are put on the bench for life, we cannot afford to be complacent.
Role of Judges FAQs
There are no formal, constitutional requirements for who may or may not serve as a federal judge. However, there are several informal, unwritten qualifications if an individual expects to be approved by the Senate. First, he or she must clearly exhibit a knowledge of the law and the U.S. Constitution. Attorneys, state or lower court judges, or law professors are most commonly tapped to serve.
Under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, the President nominates candidates to serve on the federal District Courts, the Courts of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court. The President sends the nominations to the U.S. Senate, which provides "advice and consent." Normally, an individual may not serve on the court to which he or she has been nominated without being confirmed by the U.S. Senate (the President has the power to make temporary "recess" appointments when the Senate is not in session).
Over 90% of cases are decided at the District or Court of Appeals level.
Members of the U.S. Senate and sometimes Members of the House of Representatives who are in the same political party as the President or those whose ideology is in line with the President's, make recommendations to fill federal judicial vacancies within their state or for the Court of Appeals that serves their state. These recommendations are then reviewed by the Department of Justice and the White House General Counsel's office, which makes recommendations to the President. The President, however, sends the final decision to the Senate.
After the President has submitted an individual's name to serve on a federal court to the U.S. Senate, the nomination is referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee can take the following actions:
Either take no action on the nomination (in which case the nomination eventually expires when the Congress adjourns).
Approve the nomination and send it to the floor of the Senate for a vote, or the committee can disapprove a nomination, in which case the nomination is usually expired.
In extraordinary cases, a nomination can be brought before the full Senate for a vote even though the majority of the Senators on the Judiciary Committee felt the candidate was not qualified.
If the confirmation goes before the full Senate, then the nomination is once again voted on. If a simple majority (50% or more) of the Senators present vote in favor of the nominee, then the nominee is confirmed and may then take their position on the federal bench for life. In both the Judiciary Committee and the full Senate, votes may pass or fail by a recorded (roll call) vote, or by voice vote.
Under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, once confirmed a federal judge may serve a lifetime appointment, or until he or she retires. Congress can remove a sitting judge through a very lengthy process known as impeachment and conviction, although it has only chosen to do this a few times in the history of our country.
Under Article II of the U.S. Constitution, the President has the power to fill vacancies that may exist when the Senate is in recess. These appointments are only temporary, however, as they expire at the end of the Congressional session. As a rule, the President does not make wholesale recess appointments as it may antagonize members of the Senate and may result in some Senators refusing to consider the nominees for a permanent position, or voting against other nominations in retaliation.
More than 200 Black federal judges have served in the U.S. judicial system. There have only been three Black Supreme Court justices, Thurgood Marshall (1967-1991), Clarence Thomas (1991-present), and Ketanji Brown Jackson (2022-present).