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Judiciary Celebrates Magistrate Judges’ 50 Years of Vital Contributions

Throughout October, the Judiciary has celebrated the 50th anniversary of the creation of the magistrate judge system. This short video explains the tremendous impact that magistrate judges have had on the federal Judiciary in the last half century.

In 1968, in response to increasing demands on the Judiciary, Congress passed the Federal Magistrates Act, creating a new type of judicial officer in district courts that could shoulder some of the workload. Unlike their predecessors, U.S. commissioners who were part-time and had limited jurisdiction, magistrate judges can preside over any matter, except felony trials and felony sentencing.

“We are what we call the gateway to the federal courts,” said Magistrate Judge Linda Anderson, of the Southern District of Mississippi. “We are the first judges that litigants see, both in the civil and criminal arena.”

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor once said, “Without the distinguished service of these judicial colleagues, the work of the federal court system would grind nearly to a halt.”

Unlike district judges, who have lifetime appointments, magistrate judges are appointed to eight-year terms by majority vote of the active district judges of a court. The number of magistrate judge positions is determined by the Judicial Conference of the United States based on recommendations of the respective district courts, the judicial councils of the circuits, and the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

Duties assigned to magistrate judges by district judges vary considerably from court to court.

Related Topics: Judges & Judgeships, Public Education