The Constitution doesn't have what they might consider a job description for federal judges as it does for the president and members of Congress. Federal judges are appointed under Article III of the Constitution by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate. They are appointed for life, during good behavior, and can only be removed through the impeachment process.
The process of appointing a federal judge can be controversial. While the Constitution does not set out formal qualifications for the job, members of Congress and the President may have strong and conflicting viewpoints on who should be appointed to the bench.
In this lesson, students examine the key constitutional reference to judges. They look at the general biographical profile of federal judges to learn about their career paths. They then analyze one of several statements made during Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., nomination hearing.
About These Resources
- Chief Justice Roberts statement - Excerpts from the opening statement of John G. Roberts, Jr., at his confirmation hearing for Chief Justice of the United States.
- Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire - Senators question judicial nominees using similar questions.
How to Use These Resources
Before students enter the classroom, write the following excerpt from the Constitution on the blackboard or overhead projector and cover it so that students cannot see it.
" . . . The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office." —Article III, Section I, U.S. Constitution
- At the beginning of class, ask students to brainstorm what kind of professional preparation they believe a judge should have for the job. Write their ideas on the blackboard or overhead projector.
- Share some profiles of federal judges. Ask students to read the profiles and compare the background of the federal judges with their own expectations of a qualified nominee. Ask them to identify information from the profiles that supports their ideas and information from the profiles that may differ from their ideas.
- Reveal the excerpt from the U.S. Constitution on federal judges that you wrote before the beginning of class. Ask students what qualifications the Constitution stipulates. They should reply that there are no qualifications listed.
- Explain to students that even though the Constitution does not specify a particular background or set of credentials for federal judges, the nomination and confirmation process assures that qualified people hold the job. Remind students that the President nominates judges to the federal courts and the Senate confirms them. Explain to students that they now will read an excerpt from the confirmation process to get a sense of the kind of background the President and the Senate look for in a qualified nominee.
- Share excerpts from Chief Justice Roberts opening statement. Explain to students that this is an excerpt from Chief Justice Roberts' opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee. As they read the excerpt, ask them to think about what the statement reveals about the criteria that are important to him and that he believes the Senators are looking for in a Supreme Court Justice.
Homework or Alternative Assignments
- Role play the confirmation hearing process.
- Distribute the Senate Judiciary Committee initial questionnaire.
- Ask students to imagine that they are on the staff of a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. They have been asked to research the answers to the questions that the current nominee will be asked. Direct them to fill out the questionnaire to the extent that they can by using media coverage.