United States Magistrate Judges play a critical role in the administration of justice at the district court level. They frequently handle arraignments and other preliminary criminal issues and discovery disputes in civil cases, and on occasion try cases by consent of the parties that otherwise would be tried to a district judge. But the selection and tenure of magistrate judges is far different than for their district court colleagues. Magistrate judges are Article I judges, serving at the pleasure of Congress. Instead of life tenure, they have eight-year renewable terms. And instead of presidential nomination and Senate confirmation, they obtain their jobs through a local merit selection process.
Two forthcoming openings for Magistrate Judge positions in the Southern District of Illinois give a glimpse into the nature of the selection process. Interested candidates send their applications to a specially chosen merit selection panel, comprised of seven lawyers and two non-lawyers, who vet the applications and submit a list of 6-10 names to the district judges for final selection.
Although Magistrate Judges lack the Constitutional power of Article III judges, many have gone on to fill district court openings later in their careers. Good luck to all interested candidates.