What is a Circuit Court Judge?

What is a circuit court judge? With circuit courts popping up in the news regularly, but many people are not aware of what this judge does. Here is a quick overview of what a judge in the circuit court can do, how they are appointed to their position, and their responsibilities.

The Definition

The United States is a large country with a vast criminal justice system. It is impossible for any one court to handle all the cases that arise. Therefore, the founding fathers borrowed from English common law and created circuit courts, or courts that meet in various places within the district it presides over. These courts are presided over by circuit court judges, who travel around their district to impart justice on various matters that are overseen by that circuit court. These judges have a variety of responsibilities in terms of the reach of their particular court, meaning that they may be accountable for local, state, or federal cases.

How Positions are Held

These judges must have completed an undergraduate degree, a law degree, passed the bar, and have earned a license to practice law in their state; in many cases, states have their own eligibility requirements for those judges who wish to sit on a circuit court. Many require a judge to have at least five years of practicing law in the state before they are eligible to stand for election. But these positions are not appointments; judges must run for office in state elections. Once elected to the court, these judges serve six-year terms, with a limit placed on terms that can vary from state to state. It is also important to note that judges who serve on the 13 federal circuit courts are appointed by the President of the United States and serve for life.


There are a few types of circuit courts, ranging from county to federal courts, but they all have a few things in common: they handle appeals. These appeals can range from tax cases to military matters and everything in between. Most circuit courts have one or two specialties, which the judge then focuses on while in that office. These courts do not hear any cases not yet decided by a lower court and are only available for defendants, plaintiffs, and in some cases, the government, to appeal a court decision from another court.


The circuit court is a court of appeals, meaning that a judge must be familiar with the appeals process, both in their jurisdiction and in America in general. Because there are a variety of ways to appeal a court decision, a judge must demonstrate an understanding of the different procedures that would arise from a case on appeal. The judge must also have specific knowledge in the type of law that is under their court’s jurisdiction. They are responsible for building a team of an associate judge to handle the workload, give opinions on appeals, confer with the other judges on the court during cases, and ultimately deliver a verdict on any one case.

The court system can be complicated in America. In a country with over 300 million citizens and a wide geographical range, the courts have been divided into small jurisdictions based on necessity.  It is here where many of the largest cases in America are decided, and as you’ve seen, these judges are incredibly important to the outcomes of cases all over the country. Now that we have answered what a circuit court judge is and what they do, individuals can go on to learn more about the appeals process and how it may directly affect them.