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Federal Courts - Social Issues - Government

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posted on Oct, 30 2006 @ 04:14 PM
The US Federal Court System

Article III is the Judicial article, but it is important to note that Article I gives Congress considerable power to define the judiciary. Article III provides for the Chief Justice of the United States, and for a Supreme Court and such other courts as Congress may establish. The Constitution provides that certain cases must be held in the Federal system. Disputes between states. Cases involving foreign ambassadors. The Congress is empowered to define any additional jurisdiction of the courts. Article III also sets out that Federal judges are appointed for life, conditioned on their continuing good behavior. And, their pay cannot be cut during their period of service.

There is one Supreme Court. There are 11 Circuit Courts of Appeal based on geographical districts. There is a 12th Court of Appeals known as the Federal Circuit, located in Washington, DC. There are speciality courts, the Federal Claims Court, the Tax Court, the Veterans Appeals Court, the Armed Forces Court, and the International Trade Court.

District courts. Each state has one or more District courts. There may be more than one judge appointed for each District court. Each District court also has its own Court Clerk, a United States Marshal and a United States Attorney. Those offices are appointed by the President of the United States and serve at his pleasure. Upon Bush43's taking office the Clinton appointees turned in their resignations. They then served until the Republicans had made their appointments. That is the custom. Deputy clerks, deputy marshals and assistant attorneys are civil service and are not replaced every 4 or 8 years.

District court judges are paid the same as U.S. Congresspersons. About $165,000 a year. Higher court judges are paid somewhat more, and the Supreme Court justices, a bit more than that. I believe the Chief Justice is paid the same as the Vice President, $200,000 a year. All of them get the world’s best health care paid for by taxpayers. Any judge can retire at age 65 but I do not know how his retired pay is calculated.

A new post, “senior” judge, allows a judge to “retire” but stay on full pay by taking 1 or 2 cases a year. Although it sounds like a system wide open for abuse, it is actually a useful method of assigning one experienced judge to a difficult or complex case, who can serve for the duration. Most Federal judges are millionaires before they are appointed, so money is rarely an issue with them.

There are also U.S. Magistrates and U.S. Bankruptcy Court judges. Both are appointed by the District Court judges. Magistrates and Bankruptcy judges must have the same legal qualifications as a Federal judge. Each serves a ten year term. Magistrates serve as preliminary hearing officers of the court, setting bail and court dates. Magistrates are authorized to try misdemeanor cases and civil cases when all the parties agree. Bankruptcy court judges handle the obvious, bankruptcy cases. The laws of bankruptcy are much more complicated than just a few years ago. It takes a specialist to do it right. Any decision of a magistrate or bankruptcy judge can be appealed to the local Federal judges. You could call them Judges Assistants.

Aside. It seems appropriate to explain here, that all Federal judges are created equal. No one is the boss of any Federal judge. Once approved by the US Senate, he or she sits for life, on good behavior. It is true that an appeals court may modify, overrule or reverse a District court judge, but it is also true that the lower court judge can ignore any non-judicial comments made by higher court judges. Which in judicial etiquette, is a no-no. Higher and lower as civilians use the terms refers to the level of the court in the judicial hierarchy, not to the rank of the judge.

Resume. There is lurking in the background of any possible dispute between the Congress and the Courts, the right the judiciary has taken unto itself that it and it alone can determine what laws are and are not constitutional. That - Congress restricting the courts - could raise a constitutional crisis equal to the Nixon tapes crisis. In that one, the public overwhelmingly backed the Courts. As the public did again in the 2000 Florida electoral crisis.

Anecdote. My former state of Kentucky is divided into an Eastern District headquarter at Lexington, and a Western District, headquarter at Louisville. Each district serves a population of approximately 2 million. The Western District has 5 active judges and 1 senior judge, three magistrates and 3 bankruptcy court judges. Every two years, one of the active judges is chosen by the others to be the Presiding Judge. He oversees the mundane chores, hiring and firing of secretaries, ordering new furniture and so on, and he gets to call meetings to order. He has no other power over any judge. Outsiders accord a presiding judge special honors.

The Western Kentucky District holds court in Bowling Green, Owensboro and Paducah. One judge usually makes the rounds, say, the first Monday in Bowling Green, the second Monday in Owensboro and the third Monday in Paducah. That way, local lawyers can make plans to be in Federal court at designated times.

Kentucky’s Eastern District has six judges, 1 senior judge, 3 magistrates and 3 bankruptcy court judges. It meets not only in Lexington, but also in Frankfort, Covington, Ashland, Pikeville and London. This larger number of cities to serve is mainly due to the poor roads in Appalachia as compared to the more easily traversed flatlands in the Western District.

It is said the Federal judiciary owes its vitality and its central position in America’s on-going march towards a more democratic republic to the lifetime appointment of Federal judges, more than to any other single feature.

See Article III of the US Constitution.

WHY this post, you ask? Educational. I worked 17 years in the state court system and as a flunkie for a law firm. By flunkie I mean I typed pleadings, deeds, divorrce agreements, filed papers, and interviewed clients. I wanted to pass that info along before I forget it all. DW

[edit on 10/30/2006 by donwhite]

posted on Oct, 30 2006 @ 04:55 PM
Hi Don,
Nice post, and informative on how the federal judiciary and related courts are setup. Was there any particular point you have in reference to this information? Or are you just trying to be "educational" ? In any case, thanks, I enjoyed the read.


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