How Are Federal Judges Selected?

By Lori Tripoli - Updated April 19, 2018
Judge Holding Document At Desk

The U.S. Constitution established the federal court system and the overall process by which federal judges are appointed to the bench. The president nominates candidates, and the Senate must actually approve those candidates before they can be appointed to the bench.

Tip

The president of the United States selects federal judges with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Prospective candidates for a federal judgeship might be suggested to the president by senators, representatives or others. After the president submits a nomination to the Senate, the Senate Judiciary Committee holds hearings on the nominee to assess the candidate’s fitness for the job. After the committee votes to approve or reject a nominee, the nomination is voted on by the full Senate.

How Many Federal Judges Are There?

Supreme Court Justices, federal appeals court judges and district court judges are referred to as Article III judges. This is the section of the U.S. Constitution that establishes the federal judiciary. Article III judges also include those serving on the U.S. Court of International Trade. There are 860 Article III judgeships, plus an additional 10 temporary judgeships. There are also 20 judgeships established by Congress under Article I of the Constitution, including territorial courts and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Article III judges are appointed for life and can only be removed from office via impeachment. Because judges retire or die, vacancies in federal judgeships typically exist.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Judge?

Although the Constitution does establish age requirements for presidents and for members of Congress, it does not mandate any age or other requirements for federal judges. It does not even contain a requirement that a judge attend law school and pass a bar exam to qualify to practice law. Supreme Court Justice Stanley Reed, who was appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt, did not earn a law degree, although he was a practicing lawyer. Some states allow people to pursue legal apprenticeships in lieu of law school.

How Old Is the Youngest Judge in the U.S.?

Abraham Lincoln appointed Thomas Jefferson Boynton to the federal bench when Boynton was just 25 years old. At age 34, William Howard Taft became the youngest judge appointed to a federal court of appeals in 1892. Later in his career, he was elected president of the United States, and eventually, he was appointed chief justice of the United States. The youngest person appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States was Joseph Story, who became a justice at the age of 32 back in 1811. Today, on average, people tend to be in their 50s when appointed as an Article III judge.

About the Author

Lori Tripoli is a freelance writer and editor focusing on law and the legal business. Lori’s work has been published in dozens of publications, both legal and general interest. A former Kaplan University department chair overseeing the Master of Science in Legal Studies, she earned a J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center and is the author of Contemporary Law Office Management (Aspen/Wolters Kluwer). Follow her on Twitter @LegallyLori.

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