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Just the Facts: Magistrate Judges Reach the Half Century Mark

Just the Facts is a feature that highlights issues and trends in the Judiciary based on data collected by the Judiciary Data and Analysis Office (JDAO) of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Comments, questions, and suggestions can be sent to the data team.

Throughout 2018, the federal Judiciary celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Federal Magistrates Act of 1968,1 which established the magistrate judge system. The law was enacted by Congress in response to increasing demands on the federal courts. U.S. magistrates replaced U.S. commissioners, who worked part-time and had limited authority. These new judicial officers had expanded powers, and today, they are empowered to handle any matter that a district judge can handle except for felony trials and felony sentencings.2




Facts and Figures

The number and locations of magistrate judge positions are determined by the Judicial Conference of the United States, based on recommendations of the Committee on the Administration of the Magistrate Judges System, the district courts, the judicial councils of the circuits, and the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

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1 H.R. Rep. No. 1629, 90th Cong., 1st Sess. 9 (1967).

2 Peter G. McCabe, A Brief History of the Federal Magistrate Judges Program, The Federal Lawyer, May/June 2014, at 46.

3 The federal fiscal year runs from October 1 through September 30.