Legal Dictionary

Chief Judge

Legal Definition of Chief Judge

Related terms

Definition of Chief Judge

Further reading

Chief Judge is a title that can refer to the highest-ranking judge of a court that has more than one judge. The meaning and usage of the term vary from one court system to another. While the term "Chief Judge" is used in some courts, other courts use terms such as "Chief Justice," "Presiding Judge," "President Judge," or "Administrative Judge."

United States courts of appeals

In the United States courts of appeals, the Chief Judge has certain administrative responsibilities and presides over en banc sessions of the court and meetings of the Judicial Council. The Chief Judge remains an active judge of the court hearing and deciding cases, but at his or her option may elect to take on a reduced caseload to provide time to perform administrative responsibilities.

In order to qualify for the office of Chief Judge, a judge must have been in active service on the court for at least one year, be under the age of 65, and have not previously served as Chief Judge. A vacancy in the office of Chief Judge is filled by the judge highest in seniority among the group of qualified judges. The Chief Judge serves for a term of seven years or until age 70, whichever occurs first. The age restrictions are waived if no members of the court would otherwise be qualified for the position. Unlike the Chief Justice of the United States, a Chief Judge returns to active service after the expiration of his or her term and does not create a vacancy on the bench by the fact of his or her promotion.

These rules have applied since October 1, 1982. The office of Chief Judge was created in 1948 and until August 6, 1959 was filled by the longest-serving judge who had not elected to retire on what has since 1958 been known as senior status or declined to serve as Chief Judge. From then until 1982 it was filled by the senior such judge who had not turned 70.

United States district courts

In United States district courts with at least two judges, the Chief Judge has certain administrative responsibilities, including presiding over some meetings of the judges. The Chief Judge remains an active judge of the court hearing and deciding cases, but may take on a reduced caseload to perform administrative tasks. The qualifications for Chief Judge and the selection process are essentially the same for the district courts as for the courts of appeals.


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