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The Role of Judges

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

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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).

More on Thurgood Marshall
Thurgood Marshall

The legal system can force open doors and sometimes even knock down walls. But it cannot build bridges. That job belongs to you and me.

- Thurgood Marshall, first Black U.S. Supreme Court justice
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