The Trump Administration took great pride in filling vacant federal judge positions. However, some of the former President’s appointments were surrounded by controversy. Some appointees faced past scandals and allegations of wrongdoing. Other appointees lacked experience and were not recommended by the American Bar Association. 

Should we be worried about inexperienced judges being appointed to serve on the federal bench? Do we need to revise the qualifications and requirements for federal judges since they are appointed for life? Do we want inexperienced federal judges creating a precedent in cases that could impact many generations to come?

Unfortunately, the above questions are difficult to answer. At the moment, we can only rely on the judgment of the Senators we elect. That can be a scary thought for some individuals. It takes just 51 Senators to confirm a federal court judge, including Supreme Court justices. 

What Are the Requirements to Serve as a Federal Judge?

The United States Constitution does not state any qualifications for serving as a federal judge. There are no federal laws that provide a list of qualifications for a federal court judge. Again, we rely on the judgment of Senators to choose judges who are experienced, skilled, competent, and knowledgeable. 

Even Supreme Court justices do not have to be attorneys or have any legal experience to serve on the nation’s highest court. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall studied law formally for just six weeks. 

How Are Federal Court Judges Appointed and Confirmed? 

The United States President appoints federal judges to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, courts of appeal, and district courts. As stated above, the appointees do not need to have a law degree or any experience in the legal field to be appointed to serve as a federal judge.

However, appointees are subject to confirmation by the Senate. An appointee must have at least 51 votes to be confirmed as a federal court judge. 

There has been a long-standing practice of vetting appointees for federal judgeships. The Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Department of Justice conduct background checks. 

The Senate also conducts confirmation hearings in which judicial candidates are expected to answer questions related to their:

  • Experience
  • Past judicial decisions
  • Published articles, papers, and other documents
  • Opinions regarding historical court decisions
  • Public views on topics of interest to citizens
  • Other subjects that might be considered as part of the public interest

Senators “grill” appointees about subjects they believe are important. Recently, judges have been confirmed along party lines. In the past, most federal judges had some bipartisan support.

Ratings by the American Bar Association 

The ABA also weighs in on appointees for federal judgeships. The ABA rates a potential judge as not qualified, qualified, and well-qualified. 

The decision is based on an appointee’s:

  • Competence
  • Experience 
  • Temperament
  • Integrity
  • And other relevant matters

Traditionally, most Senators took the ABA rating very seriously. It was not standard practice to confirm appointees that the ABA rated “not qualified.”

However, there was a change during the last two years of the Trump Administration. One example of such a change in practice is the Hon. Kathryn Kimball Mizelle. Judge Mizelle received a “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association. Even though the ABA found that she did not have sufficient courtroom experience, the Senate confirmed her appointment to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

How Do Inexperienced Federal Judges Impact Our Judicial System?

Except for U.S. Bankruptcy Judges and Federal Magistrate Judges, federal judges serve for life. Young, inexperienced judges can affect the judicial system for decades. Their oral decisions and written opinions affect public policy. They can set precedents for future cases that are difficult to overturn. 

For example, a decision changing how evidence proving negligence is presented or damages are calculated in a personal injury case could impact accident victims’ rights to receive fair compensation for injuries and damages. The case law applicable to personal injury claims could shift to favor insurance providers and defendants. 

Decisions by inexperienced federal judges could impact how product liability and premises liability claims are decided. Judges could narrow the duty of care owed by property owners and manufacturers, thereby making it much more difficult to hold a negligent party liable for wrongdoing. 

The good news is that the majority of individuals confirmed as federal judges are well-qualified, competent judges. They have law degrees, experience, and other qualifications that give them the ability to make sound, legally-grounded decisions about the cases they hear.

Furthermore, individuals involved in civil matters have the right to appeal decisions issued by courts. If judges make errors or exceed their legal boundaries, a party can appeal to have the case reviewed by a higher court.

Injury victims who hire experienced personal injury lawyers can rest assured that their attorneys understand the law and will fight to ensure that the courts uphold the law.