What is a District Justice?

A district justice is a trial judge who works in a U.S. District Court. These judges have a central role in the American justice system, as the nation contains a limited number of district courts. They preside over cases that are in the federal court system, but there are some limitations in the types of cases district judges may hear.

Federal Judicial Districts

The federal justice system in the United States is divided into 94 districts. Every state, along with Washington, D.C., contains its own federal district, and highly populated states may contain several districts. Each district contains one or more trial courts where district judges work. These judges solely preside over cases that have occurred within, or involve, their district.

Appointing District Judges

Justices in the federal system are appointed according to standards set forth in the Constitution and American federal law. These court judges must be appointed by the President of the United States, and confirmed by the U.S. Congress. They receive lifetime appointments, provided that they uphold principles of good behavior. Congress has the sole ability to decide whether a federal justice has adhered to good behavior, and to impeach judges who fail to do so. Because their jobs require extensive legal knowledge and experience, federal trial justices often serve as county, state, or federal magistrate judges for years before receiving an appointment. They also frequently retain their judgeships after reaching 65 years of age, and continue to receive cases assigned to them by their district’s chief judge.

District Justices’ Cases

Although trial judges at the federal level may preside over any case that comes before their court, only certain cases may be heard in district courts. District judges may hear criminal cases that involve federal laws when a United States federal prosecutor brings charges. They may also preside over civil cases, such as civil cases involving the United States government, or that relate to Congressional laws or the Constitution itself. Civil cases that involve disputes between parties from two different states, including state governments, fall under the purview of the district trial justice.

Federal Judges’ Responsibilities

The responsibilities of a U.S. District Court judge include presiding over civil and criminal cases to ensure that all cases follow federal laws, and to make sure that the Constitutional rights of the parties involved are respected at all times. This involves impartially listening to the facts of cases, following correct case procedures, instructing jury members on their duties, and making determinations on how federal laws and past decisions should be applied to specific cases. These justices are responsible for making sentencing decisions in criminal cases. In civil cases, they make decisions on whether one of the parties is at fault, and whether compensation and punitive damages should be awarded. Also, district judges write opinions that explain their case decisions and provide a foundation for future rulings on similar cases.


District trial judges uphold federal laws and Constitutional rights by presiding over civil and criminal cases in a United States District Court. They may issue decisions, draft case opinions, and set jurisprudence that may influence future case outcomes. A district justice is a central figure in American law for these reasons.

See also: The 30 Most Architecturally Impressive Courthouses in the U.S.