Article I Judges in an Article III World: The Career Path of Magistrate Judges
21 Pages Posted: 24 May 2016
Date Written: May 23, 2016
Federal magistrate judges are a relatively new creation, officially dating back only to 1968 in a federal judicial system which dates to 1789. Unlike federal district and appellate judges, whose constitutional authority is rooted in Article III, federal magistrate judges are a creation of Congress through Article I. Since their inception as special masters, magistrate judges’ responsibilities have steadily grown, now presiding (with the parties’ consent) over civil as well as misdemeanor criminal trials. The institutional differences between magistrate and district judges are stark: selection, compensation, and tenure, to name a few. At the same time, the roles of these judges significantly overlap, and district courts vary in the power and deference granted to magistrate judges. Notwithstanding their importance in federal adjudication, our understanding of magistrate judges remains limited. This article attempts to increase our understanding by building a unique dataset that comprises the universe of sitting United States magistrate judges, capturing both biographical and professional characteristics. We find that magistrate judges come from more diverse educational and professional backgrounds than do district judges. The implications of this finding are significant because magistrate judges exercise greater decision-making discretion in federal courts and serve as a pipeline to the Article III judiciary.
Keywords: Judicial selection, federal courts, magistrate judges, district judges
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