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The Selection of Supreme Court Justices and Federal Judges: Process & Tenure

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  • 0:03 Federal Judges
  • 0:45 Appointment of Federal Judges
  • 2:13 Appointment of Supreme…
  • 4:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

All federal judges are appointed by the United States President, and must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, including the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. This lesson explains the process of selecting federal judges and their tenure once selected.

Federal Judges

Our country's court system utilizes many different types of judges. There are judges who sit at the city, county, state, and federal levels. While most judges are elected at the local level, all federal judges are appointed. These federal judges have authority and discretion over all cases involving federal law and the U.S. Constitution. There are currently 865 federal judges in the U.S., sitting at various levels of the system. Additionally, we have nine U.S. Supreme Court justices.

Appointment of Federal Judges

Let's take a look at the appointment process. The American Bar Association, or ABA, maintains a list of potential candidates for federal judgeship. The ABA is the main national professional organization of lawyers. The ABA's candidates are mostly state court system judges with well-respected professional records. Each candidate is given a rating, ranging from 'exceptionally well-qualified' to 'not qualified'. Many candidates are considered for federal judgeships based on this list, though a rating or inclusion on the list is not a requirement for a nomination.

The U.S. president formally nominates a candidate to an open judgeship. Next, the Senate Judiciary Committee holds hearings regarding the appropriateness of the appointment. The candidate must be confirmed by a majority vote of the U.S. Senate. Upon confirmation, the judge will participate in a 'swearing in' ceremony. This is when the judge will take an oath of office swearing to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States. After this ceremony, the judge may take office. Each federal judge is appointed to serve a life term. However, a federal judge may resign, retire, or be impeached for misbehavior.

Appointment of Supreme Court Justices

Now, let's take a look at the appointment of U.S. Supreme Court justices. Like other federal judges, each Supreme Court justice must be nominated by the U.S. president, confirmed by a majority vote of the U.S. Senate, and officially sworn into office. However, unlike other federal judgeships, this nomination process is often contentious and well-publicized. Our U.S. Supreme Court justices have an immeasurable impact on our society. These nine people determine aspects of our personal lives such as:

  • Can the government regulate what I do with my body?
  • Does the First Amendment protect what I say?
  • When do I have a right to a lawyer?
  • Have I been discriminated against?
  • Can the police enter my home without my permission?

Because the Supreme Court shapes our society, these appointments are considered to be the most significant. A president almost always appoints a justice that comes from that president's same political party. Note, however, that a different political party will often hold control of the Senate. This situation sometimes makes confirmation a difficult process.

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