From being appointed with carrying out tasks like looking over various trials and proceedings, maintaining proper decorum as well as law and order to ensuring the process of review in order to decide whether there are any discrepancies as per the submitted evidence in a case, under the U.S Judicial System, the judges play a huge role in the adjudication of an issue.
Not only the aforementioned, but the officials of law, also extend guidelines and regulations to the juries before they set out to make decisions as well as adjudicate the facts of the case on the basis of which a judgement is curated in cases of bench trials.
Adding on the same lines is the fact that, judges also seek accountability for sentencing convicted criminal defendants, the cases of whom are guided and resolved by the juries.
To ensure, every citizen is complemented with the right to a fair hearing and be witnessed to justice, irrespective of their racial status, position of power, origin or any other external stimulants, is the idea lying behind the appointment of Supreme Court justices as well as District Court judges which are carried out by the President of the nation.
Not just the issues pertaining to basic civil rights, religious freedoms, and voting rights but also ideas that revolve around affirmative actions, as well as cases of life and death, are adjudicated by the judges presiding in federal courts, which range from district court judges to Supreme Court justices.
From taking a lead on managing court proceedings and trials to using their law expertise as well as guidance in curating a judgement, not to forget determining the rule on the constitutionality of various laws and legal precedents, the judges of the United States Courts are bestowed with tremendous power to serve justice to the citizen of the nation.
1. Comprehending the Role of a Judge in Federal Courts
To understand the role of a judge, it is essential to capture the essence of their responsibilities.
From adjudicating a case, passing a judgment on the sentence that must be served by the convict, to maintaining strict law and order, as well as resorting to being highly impartial, unbiased, true, fair and adhering to the laws of the State and the constitution of the United States, the aforementioned guard of law serves to be the key element in process of serving justice to the general public of the nation.
Not only the aforesaid but paying a listening ear to all the evidence that has been brought before the court to make an informed judgement as well as in cases where a jury is employed, to ensure proper methodology and knowledge of the law is utilized and in scenarios devoid of a jury, to take on the responsibility of gathering and examining the facts of the case, the judges have various aspects of law and order to look into.
The idea of a judge, who is an appointed officer of law by the parliament responsible for presiding over court trials, revolves around the qualities of being impartial as well as accurately analysing the essence, consequence, and basic meaning of the law.
Understanding the aspect that the concept of justice encompasses more than the action of interpreting the law, that is to show compassion, mercy, kindness and extending their sense of understanding towards both parties of the case, is also a crucial responsibility that the judges of the court are bestowed upon.
The responsibilities of a judge are as follows:
When a case hits the boundaries of the Court of Justice, a judge must:
- Analyse the questions of whether there is enough evidence to back up the claims of a crime that has occurred as well as the individual who is involved in the offence executed and adjudicate the case accordingly.
- Understand and extend support to the defendant if they are unable to appoint a lawyer for themselves.
- Execute the responsibility of setting the bail for the convicts under the correct circumstances
- Take into account the fact that once it is established that the defendant has a lawyer to represent themselves followed by the setting up of their probable bail amount, the defendants are then authorized to enter the field where they can plead guilty or not guilty. It is essential to highlight that the plea made, must be voluntary and of their consent.
- On the basis of having the jury present, lies the entire crux of the role the judge dispenses during the hearing of the case
- In cases of serious crimes, as a jury is always present for the adjudication of the case, they are the triers of the information which simply refers to the fact that it is the jury who speculates and scrutinizes the evidence put ahead in the court and has the authority to gauge the essence of what has gone down as well as pinpoint the fact whether the defendant lies guilty or otherwise.
Holding the responsibility of being the arbiter of the law, the judge of the court ensures that all the proceedings spiralling in the courtroom are in adherence to the legal framework.
In the absence of a jury, the judge assumes the roles of both the trier of fact and the trier of law, which is categorized as very common for civil cases.
On the other hand, speaking of cases circling in a criminal sense, the aforementioned act of the judge occurs only when there is a written agreement lying between the state and the defendant, stating that a jury trial is not required, which leads to the employment of bench trials in minor criminal cases, quite frequently.
Adding more to the aforesaid, the judges are as well responsible for putting ahead the consequences, that is the term of the sentence in criminal cases and the number of fines that must be paid in civil cases.
Completing the aforementioned, when engaging in juvenile cases, the judges have distinct obligations to fulfil as juveniles are not charged with crimes due to their reduced level of responsibility and knowledge.
As such, proceedings and trials running in juvenile courts are not adversarial, as well as no jury trials are conducted for any case adjudication.
All of the steps involved in the determination of a judgement lie in the hands of the judge who not only pays a listening ear to the evidence brought to the court and arguments extending from both sides but also engages in underlining what stands as the best interest of the juvenile, the community, and the legal system.
Not to forget, the judges are also accountable for authorizing warrants for police arrests and searches.
The idea of the judges having the authority to discipline individuals for any misconduct that takes place in the courtroom, penalize those who violate court orders, and issue orders to prevent certain actions, is what is highlighted under the common-law legal systems, like that of the United States.
Adding on further, the judges also possess the power to declare a law unconstitutional if the reasoning fits the criteria of the specific case at hand.
Furthermore, in such systems, judges are allowed to depart from precedent, which allows for some degree of flexibility in the interpretation of the law.
1.1 Appointment of Judges
Mentioned under Article III of the U.S. Constitution is a stipulation of the fact that the President is responsible for nominating individuals to serve as the officers of the law in the federal District Courts, the Courts of Appeals, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court. Post the procedure of nomination, the U.S. Senate is bestowed with the responsibility to provide “advice and consent”, on the same.
Thus, speaking in a general sense, a nominee cannot serve in the court until they have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate, however, the President has the authority to make temporary appointments, also known as “recess“, when the Senate is not prevailing in session.
1.2 The Selection of the Federal Judicial Nominees
In the United States, members of the Senate, and occasionally the House of Representatives, belonging either to the same political party as the President or are in sync with the President’s ideological beliefs, often suggest potential individuals who would be absolutely suitable to fill in the positions of the judicial officers of the law that could be either within their state or for the Court of Appeals which is curated to serve their state.
Reviewed by the Department of Justice and the White House General Counsel’s office are these recommendations, which are then bestowed upon the duty of extending suggestions to the President.
It is essential to pinpoint that the ultimate decision is made by the President followed by sending the aforementioned to the Senate for confirmation.
1.3 The Senate Confirmation Process
Once the President nominates an individual to serve as a judicial officer of the law in the said federal court, the aforementioned is referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is then bestowed certain duties that includes the following:
- Either have the opportunity to put forward no action on the nomination, in case of which, the nomination eventually expires when the session headed by Congress adjourns.
- Or approve the nomination put forth by the President and have it sent to the full Senate for the placement procedure of voting.
- Or hands down disapprove of the nomination extended by the President, in which case, again, the nomination usually stands expired.
- However, in exceptional cases, a nomination can be brought before the full Senate for the placement of votes even though the majority of the Senators on the Judiciary Committee were of the view that the said candidate was not qualified.
If the confirmation goes before the full Senate, then the nomination is once again put forth for having votes taken.
If a simple majority that is 50% or more of the Senators extend their votes in favour of the nominee, then the nominee stands as confirmed followed by them taking their position on the federal bench for till their tenure is completed.
In both cases, the Judiciary Committee and the full Senate, votes may pass or fail by a recorded (roll call) vote, or by voice vote.
1.4 The Tenure of a Federal Judge
According to Article III of the U.S. Constitution, federal judges serve a tenure of a lifetime, which refers to the fact that they can serve on the bench until either they choose to retire or pass away due to circumstances.
However, it is essential to put forth that, Congress does have the power to clear a sitting judge of the said obligation through the process of impeachment and conviction.
This is a rare occurrence and has only been done a few times in the history of the United States Judiciary.
1.5 Understanding the Recess Appointment
As per Article II of the U.S. Constitution, the President owns the authority to make temporary appointments, called recess appointments, so as to fill the spots of federal power when the Senate is in recess.
However, as aforementioned, these appointments are temporary in nature and will expire at the end of the Congressional session.
It is not usual for a President to make complete recess appointments as it can potentially strain relationships with the Senators, who may be less likely to consider the candidates for permanent positions or can even resort to retaliation by voting against the other said nominees.
2. Comprehending the Working of the Court Systems
Understanding how the Courts of the United States function serves as another important factor to throw some light on the role of judges of the said courts.
Cases ranging from issues pertaining to the constitutionality of a law, the laws to treaties of the United States, disputes between states, maritime law which is also known as admiralty law, and bankruptcy cases are all heard in federal courts of the United States.
The federal judiciary is an independent entity when compared with the executive and legislative branches, although it frequently collaborates with them as mandated by the Constitution of the United States.
To understand further, Congress passes federal laws which are then endorsed by the President.
Not only the aforesaid, but the judicial branch also serves to be responsible for ruling on the constitutionality of the said federal laws and settling any other disagreements circling them.
Nonetheless, the judges rely on the executive branch of the government to enforce court decisions.
Emphasizing further, the federal courts play a crucial role in determining the factual events and appropriate consequences for the same.
Not only do they ascertain whether an individual has committed a crime followed by a suitable penalty for it. But they are also authorized to offer a peaceful mechanism for resolving private conflicts that individuals are incapable of settling in an amicable manner.
Depending on the nature of the conflict or offence, certain cases are heard in federal courts, while others are taken into account in state courts.
2.1 The Supreme Court
Serving as the highest court in the United States is the Supreme Court, established by Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which has as well granted Congress the power to enact legislation by setting up a framework of the procedure for lower courts.
At present, the federal court system comprises 94 trial courts at the district level and 13 appellate courts, all of which fall under the Supreme Court of the United States if speaking in the format of the hierarchy.
2.2 The Courts of Appeals
Understanding deeper, the U.S. Courts of Appeals, also known as appellate courts, are composed of 13 judicial panels that operate under the U.S. Supreme Court of the United States.
The 94 federal judicial districts are consolidated into 12 regional circuits, where each arena contains a court of appeals.
Not only is the main function of the appellate court to evaluate whether the law has been properly applied and analysed in the trial court but also the Appeals courts are comprised of a panel of three judges, and they do not employ any kind of jury.
Adding onto the same frequency of thoughts, the Court of Appeals is as well responsible for reviewing appeals against any and all district court verdicts from courts which are located within its circuit and appeal from decisions made by federal administrative agencies.
Complementing is the fact that the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has the authority to hear appeals across the nation in unique and particular cases, which is inclusive of those related to patent laws and cases adjudicated by the U.S. Court of International Trade as well as the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
2.3 Bankruptcy Appellate Panels
Bankruptcy Appellate Panels also known as the BAPs, are composed of a panel of three judges who have the authority to review appeals of cases pertaining to bankruptcy court rulings.
These panels are part of the federal courts of appeals and are only established if the circuit authorizes them to do the aforementioned.
Currently, five circuits have created the essence of BAPs which comprises the First Circuit, Sixth Circuit, Eighth Circuit, Ninth Circuit, and Tenth Circuit.
2.4 The District Courts
The 94 trial or district courts positioned in the United States, are known as the U.S. District Courts, which are not only known to settle disagreements by determining the facts and employing legal principles to adjudicate who stands on the podium being correct but also is also very rightly renowned for consisting a district judge who presides over the cases as well as a qualified jury that makes decisions regarding the any said case.
Adding on the aforesaid ideology, the magistrate judges are known for assisting district judges in the preparation of cases for trial and proceedings as well as are authorized to preside over all kinds of misdemeanour cases.
Each state as well as counting the District of Columbia has at least one district court positioned, and every district comprises a U.S. bankruptcy court that serves to be a part of the said district court.
Additionally, four U.S. territories, that mark it inclusive of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, have U.S. district courts that are authorized to take care of federal cases, including any kind of bankruptcy cases.
The Court of International Trade resolves cases concerning international trade completed with customs laws whereas the U.S. Court of Federal Claims solely revolves around cases with most monetary damage claims against the U.S. government.
3. Emphasizing the Judicial Misconduct
Diving deeper into the pool of understanding the concept of the role of judges, with great power, comes great responsibility, and if there is any failure in conducting such obligations, penalties shall be witnessed.
Judicial misconduct undermines the very foundation of a functioning judiciary, which solely relies on the citizens’ belief that judges are radically impartial, fair, honest, and unbiased. Without the trust and confidence of the people of the nation, the judiciary stands now where close to existing.
Therefore, judges must be accountable to the proposed legal and ethical standards. However, the process of reviewing judicial conduct must be carried out without infringing the concept of independence that lies with judicial decision-making.
As challenging as this task sounds, the judiciary, more than any other branch of government, is built on the faith of the general public.
Neither do the judges have armies or police forces at their command, nor do they have the power of the go-ahead with any fund initiatives or the authorization to pass new legislation.
Instead, their role is to merely make judgements and pass decrees on the basis of the law, and such rulings are to be seen as coming from a competent, lawful, and independent panel of judicial officers in order to be trusted by the people.
3.1 What Serves to be Unethical?
To maintain public trust, the judges are pushed forward to adhere to the ethical standards put forth for the address of various kinds of problematic actions, omissions, and relationships.
Common complaints of judicial misconduct include improper demeanour, failure to disqualify oneself when there is a conflict of interest, engaging in ex-parte communication, as well as showing downright inconsistency in performing judicial duties in a timely fashion.
While the conduct outside of the courtroom may also qualify as an issue, an oversight of the judicial conduct should not be utilized for the regulation of personal aspects of a judge’s life.
However, a judge’s personal behaviour can position their judicial integrity into dire question, and even a kind of behaviour that would be considered as unwise for an average citizen can constitute misconduct when committed by a judge.
The explanation for the aforesaid is due to the judge’s conduct that is magnified by the prestige of their position.
Taking as an illustration of misconduct shall be inclusive of violating criminal law, engaging in sexual misconduct with staff, attorneys, or parties, joining discriminatory organizations, and using their judicial position to advance private interests.
Adding on the aforesaid line of thoughts, it is essential to understand, that the judges are expected to follow the set precedents and legal codes when curating their rulings and judgements, as well as the fact that violations of fundamental rights can be constitutes judicial misconduct too.
For example, the preamble of the Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct states that “judges should maintain the dignity of the office at all times and avoid both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in their professional and personal lives”.
However, the determination of when a judge’s ruling is so far afield that it appears they are acting with impunity towards the law can serve to be difficult in comprehending it, as it often involves subjective judgments about the legal reasoning behind the making the said decision.
In cases where there are concerns about a judge’s ruling, there are established mechanisms for applying for a review and proceeding with the appeal, such as through the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court of the United States.
However, as mentioned above, the role of a conduct commission is generally not to critique a judge’s legal reasoning, but to address ethical and behavioural concerns, such as conflicts of interest, bias, or inappropriate conduct in the courtroom or in personal life.
Ultimately, ensuring the integrity and independence of the judiciary requires a delicate balance between holding judges accountable for their conduct and preserving their ability to make impartial decisions based on the law.
3.2 The Rectification of Such Misconduct
Adding on the aforementioned line of ideologies, it serves to be crucial to establish an effective method of safeguarding the public from judicial misconduct by implementing a review process that minimizes the risk of external interference and influence in unpopular, different, rare but accurate legal decisions.
On the same lines, it is also necessary to ensure that a system is in place to protect the judges’ right to contest ethical charges.
Serving as an explanation is the fact that if a judge is found to have violated ethical standards, the conduct commission must employ appropriate sanctions or remedies in order to deal with such a situation.
Taking on such a disciplinary action not only corrects the behaviour of the judge that lies in question but is also categorized as a warning to other members of the judiciary to not repeat such a scenario.
The conduct commission is empowered to issue warnings or reprimands for unethical conduct and can order remedial measures such as mentoring, monitoring, or additional education.
Suspension or removal from office, the most severe forms of sanctions, are reserved for the most severe cases of misconduct.
The entire essence of having to refrain from the misconduct of judges is to maintain the essence of justice throughout the nation and in the hearts of the citizens of the United States.
The judiciary has a responsibility to support accountability measures, despite the fact that most judges serve with integrity.
It serves as highly important to rectify the ethical lapses as well as acknowledge the significant breaches of trust in the modus operandi of the judicial system.
The judiciary should actively participate in developing ethical standards and assist in enforcing them.
As former US President Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “No one is above the law, and obedience to it is a right, not a favour.”
Judges who uphold justice must be viewed as ethical and be held accountable when necessary as upholding the rule of law is of utmost importance to maintain the order of working.
4. The Concept of Lay Judges
To understand the idea of Lay judges, comprehending how judges are of the essence in different countries serves fruitful.
In civil law countries, judges at all levels typically receive professional legal training, whereas, in other countries, such a practice holds no significance.
In England, part-time lay judges, referred to as magistrates or justices of the peace, outnumber full-time professional judges.
These lay judges are responsible for adjudicating over 95 percent of criminal cases and are generally well-regarded by the public and legal professionals alike as witnessed in magistrates’ courts.
Professional judges, on the other hand, handle only a small number of the most serious crimes, and the majority of their time is spent presiding over civil cases.
While England relies heavily on lay judges, they are not uncommon in the courts of many other countries, particularly those that are positioned at the lower trial level. The United States, for example, still employs lay judges, as did the former Soviet Union.
In some Middle Eastern countries, such as Israel and Iran, lay judges are placed in religious courts and are only selected based on their knowledge, competence and understanding of and adherence to non-secular laws.
In Finland, panels of lay judges sit alongside qualified judges in district court for criminal cases and may also be used in some civil cases involving domestic issues.
In the early 21st century, Japan as well as was seen to enact legislation to introduce lay judges into their legal system.
Understanding the role of judges in the courts of the United States serves to be of high essence as it shines a light on how the judiciary of the nation function to fulfil their obligation of extending unbiased justice to their citizens.
From comprehending the formation of the judiciary that is the appointment of justices and judges, the structure of courts to the ideas that serve as judicial misconduct which are worked upon to be reduced tremendously, the essence of judges in the United States courts is a key element when speaking of Justice.