A United States magistrate judge is a judicial officer of a district court, appointed by majority vote of the court's district judges. A full-time magistrate judge is appointed for a term of eight years; a part-time magistrate judge serves for a term of four years. Generally, a magistrate judge’s duties include initial proceedings in criminal cases; references of pretrial matters from district judges; trials of misdemeanors; trials of civil cases; and other duties. The position of magistrate judge is widely regarded as a proving ground that can provide invaluable practical experience for future Article III judges, and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts encourages the selection of magistrates who possess the same types of personal and professional qualities expected of judicial judges.
The Normal Selection Process
The selection of a magistrate judge begins with the issuance of a vacancy announcement and the appointment of a merit selection panel consisting of at least six lawyers and other members of the community served by the court. Following the initial screening of applications, the panel in its discretion may choose to conduct personal interviews of some or all applicants. In its confidential deliberations, the panel is encouraged to consider a variety of factors, including the need for a court that reflects the community’s racial, ethnic and gender diversity.
Unless the number or the caliber of applicants is inadequate, the panel is required to designate those five candidates that it finds most qualified to serve as a United States magistrate judge. The court may accept the findings contained in the panel's report, conduct an additional inquiry into the qualifications of the recommended individuals, or conduct its own interviews of the recommended applicants. Thereafter, the district judges may by majority vote select the final selectee from the list provided by the panel. However, if the court by majority vote does not select an individual from the five names on the list, the court must request a second list of five names from the panel. Following the successful completion of investigations buy the FBI and the IRS, the court may appoint the person thus selected.
The Exclusion of Qualified African-American Candidates in the Current Selection Process in the Northern District of Georgia
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia recently appointed a merit selection panel of thirteen individuals, including only one African-American, to fill the position held by E. Clayton Scofield, III. Reliable sources confirm the following:
- a number of applicants applied for this positon, including a number of qualified African-American candidates;
- a number of the applicants, including some African-American candidates, were not interviewed by the panel;
- the merit selection panel has developed a short list of five candidates; and
- there are no African-Americans on the short list developed by the Merit Selection Panel.
What the Court can Do
The district judges are not required to appoint the next magistrate from the racially-exclusive list which has been developed by the merit selection panel; rather, they are authorized to select none of the names that have been submitted to them and, instead, to request the panel to go back to the drawing board and develop a new short list that reflects the community’s racial, ethnic and gender diversity.