Requirements to Become a Judge in the United States
Judges form the backbone of American judicial system. They are not all appointed the same way. Depending on the state, some judges run for local elections, while some are appointed based on merit.
The minimum educational requirement to be a judge in the United States is a bachelor’s degree. State or federal judges need a juris doctorate at the minimum. While, technically, only a four-year degree is required for local judges, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that they almost always have a juris doctorate. Most judges have experience as a lawyer in the field over which they preside.
Most local and state judges are elected in local elections held every two years. While terms vary from state to state, a median term is four years. Judges campaign for their position like any other politician and appear on local ballots during elections. A candidate for judge does not necessarily have to have to run against anyone.
Appointment and merit
All federal judges are appointed by the president of the United States and are confirmed by the Senate. Members of Congress are also able to recommend judges, although this is more rare. Federal judges serve a life term. Governors appoint some state judges, usually after scrutiny from a merit commission.
Some states such as Arizona have a merit selection system for appointing judges. When a judge leaves his seat, potential new judges file applications with the state commission. Members of the appointing commission must be approved by the Senate. The commission interviews several candidates based on professional merit and selects finalists to present to the governor.
A chief judge is the most senior judge at the federal, circuit, and district levels. A chief judge is not appointed or elected but automatically assumes the position due to seniority. A chief judge must have served as a judge for a minimum of one year. He must also be under the age of 64 and must not have been a chief judge previous to assumption.