What is the process for appointing federal judges?

Article III judges and justices, such as those who serve in US District Court, US Court of International Trade, US Court of Appeals Circuit Courts, and the Supreme Court of the United States are nominated by the President and appointed with the "advice and consent" of the Senate.

Article III courts are those that comprise the Judicial Branch of the federal government:

  • US District Courts
  • US Court of International Trade
  • US Court of Appeals Circuit Courts
  • Supreme Court of the United States

The overall process is similar to that used to confirm US Supreme Court justices, with the FBI conducting a full background check, and the Senate Judiciary Committee evaluating the candidate before making a recommendation to the full Senate. The Senate must approve the nomination by a simple majority (51%) of those voting, unless an opposing Senator filibusters the appointment, in which case 60 votes are required to invoke cloture (end the filibuster).

While the appointment process requires participation of both the Executive and Legislative branches, historically, the President is credited with the appointment.

The federal judiciary also includes Article I judges, who preside over courts or tribunals of limited power and jurisdiction, often connected to government departments and agencies.

While these courts are not considered part of the Judicial Branch, some judges, like those who sit on the US Court of Claims, are nominated by the President, and approved by the Senate, just like Article III judges, but only sit for a fixed term of 15 years, and don't enjoy some of the other benefits afforded Article III judges.

Others, like judges for US Bankruptcy Courts, are appointed by appellate judges of the US Court of Appeals Circuit Court with jurisdiction a particular Bankruptcy Court's territory. And some Article I judges (like administrative law judges, or ALJ's) are hired by the agency they serve, such as the Social Security Administration's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.