When can a federal judge become a senior judge?

At the federal district court and federal circuit court level, judges may elect to take senior status upon reaching age 65. These judges still hear cases when asked to do so by the chief justice of the district or circuit.

What does the Federal Magistrates Act do?

Federal district court judges often assign much of their work to federal judges called magistrates. In 1968, Congress passed a law known as the Federal Magistrates Act, which empowered federal district court judges to hire magistrate judges to assist in the control of their caseloads. Magistrate judges do not hold their offices for life, but serve at the discretion of the federal district court. They initially serve eight-year terms. 28 U.S.C. § 631 reads:

The judges of each United States district court and the district courts of the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands shall appoint United States magistrate judges in such numbers and to serve at such locations within the judicial districts as the Judicial Conference may determine under this chapter. In the case of a magistrate judge appointed by the district court of the Virgin Islands, Guam, or the Northern Mariana Islands, this chapter shall apply as though the court appointing such a magistrate judge were a United States district court. Where there is more than one judge of a district court, the appointment, whether an original appointment or a reappointment, shall be by the concurrence of a majority of all the judges of such district court, and when there is no such concurrence, then by the chief judge. Where the conference deems it desirable, a magistrate judge may be designated to serve in one or more districts adjoining the district for which he is appointed. Such a designation shall be made by the concurrence of a majority of the judges of each of the district courts involved and shall specify the duties to be performed by the magistrate judge in the adjoining district or districts.

Are there other federal courts that are not Article III courts?

Yes, there are other federal courts not called for in Article III, but that are in Article I, which spells out the powers of the legislative branch. Examples of these Article I courts are the U.S. Court of Military Appeals and the U.S. Tax Court.

What is the work product of judges and courts?

Judges, particularly federal judges, express their work product through judicial opinions. When people colloquially refer to a case, they are often referring to the judicial opinion authored by the judge or the court. These judicial opinions are written resolutions of legal issues. Oftentimes these judicial opinions divide Court members. For example, on many important constitutional law issues, the U.S. Supreme Court will divide 5 to 4 on the questions. The types of opinions are:

Majority opinion: This opinion, which must have five votes, is the ruling of the Court. It stands as precedent for future cases. If all justices vote with the majority, the opinion is said to be a unanimous opinion.

Plurality opinion: The main opinion of the Court but one that fails to command a majority of the justices. For instance, a case may have four justices agreeing with one opinion, two justices who file concurring opinions but not joining the other four, and three justices in dissent. In this 4-2-3 split, there is no majority opinion.

Concurring opinion: An opinion that agrees with the result but not the reasoning of the majority or main opinion of the Court. A justice who writes a concurring opinion may want to emphasize particular points of law or simply indicate that the main opinion reached the right result by taking the wrong path.

Dissenting opinion: An opinion that disagrees with the result of the majority opinion.

Per curiam opinion: An opinion rendered by the Court, or a majority of the Court, collectively instead of a single justice.

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