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How are Judges Selected?

The answer is: It depends on the court. There are two major court systems in the United States. On one track, federal courts decide cases that involve parties from different states, federal laws, or constitutional rights. The federal courts are split into two categories: Article I courts, and Article III courts. The alternative (and more commonly used) system of courts are the state courts, which decide cases that involve state law, as well as other cases that do not fall within federal courts' jurisdiction.

Selection of Federal Court Judges

Federal Article III Judges

Article III courts are general trial courts and can hear any kind of federal case. These include the federal trial courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court. The judges for these courts are nominated by the President and confirmed by Congress. Once in office, the judges can remain in their positions for life.

Federal Article I Judges

Article I courts are created by Congress to administer the laws that Congress writes. These can include bankruptcy courts, tax courts, and certain military courts. Judges are appointed by Congress and serve for 10 years, after which they may be reappointed.

Selection of State Court Judges

How state court judges are selected varies by state. States choose judges in any of the following ways:

  • Appointment: The state's governor or legislature will choose their judges.
  • Merit Selection: Judges are chosen by a legislative committee based on each potential judge's past performance. Some states hold "retention elections" to determine if the judge should continue to serve.
  • Partisan Elections: Judges selected through partisan elections are voted in by the electorate, and often run as part of a political party's slate of candidates.
  • Non-Partisan Elections: Potential judges that run for a judicial position in states with non-partisan elections put their names on the ballot, but do not list their party affiliates. Terms for judges in non-partisan elections can range between 6 and 10 years.
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