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A judge is an appointed or elected official who decides legal disputes in court. Judges are required to be impartial and unbiased in their decision making. It is important to note that the specific roles and powers of judges may vary across different jurisdictions. Additionally, judges serve in different levels of courts, such as trial courts, appellate courts, supreme courts, and even within the Administrative State (see Administrative Law Judge or Administrative Office of the United States Courts), each with distinct responsibilities and authority.


Judges hear cases presented by parties involved in legal disputes and make decisions or judgments based on the facts and evidence presented, as well as the applicable laws and legal precedents. They ensure that all parties have a fair opportunity to present their arguments and evidence.

Interpretation and Application of Law

Judges also shape interpretation and application of the law through their analysis of statutes, regulations, and legal principles to determine their meaning and how they should be applied to the specific cases before them. Judges rely on legal precedents, which are previous court decisions on similar legal issues, to guide their decisions. They consider the principles established by higher courts and strive to maintain consistency in the interpretation and application of the law.

Procedural Management

A judge is also tasked with managing court proceedings, including setting the schedule, ensuring the orderly conduct of the courtroom, and making rulings on procedural matters. They have the authority to enforce courtroom decorum, maintain order, and resolve disputes between parties or their legal representatives.


In criminal cases where the defendant is found guilty, judges determine the appropriate sentence within the framework of applicable laws and sentencing guidelines. They consider various factors, such as the severity of the offense, the defendant's criminal history, and any mitigating or aggravating circumstances.

Legal Opinions and Written Judgments

Judges may be required to provide written opinions or judgments explaining the legal reasoning behind their decisions. These written documents help to establish legal precedent and provide guidance to lower courts in similar cases.


Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution vests the power to appoint federal judges in the President of the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate. Thus, Supreme Court justices, court of appeals judges, and district court judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate. The process of appointing state judges varies from state to state. In some states, the governor appoints judges to fill vacancies in state courts, which typically involves the governor selecting a candidate from a list of recommendations provided by a nominating commission or advisory board. The appointment may require confirmation by the state legislature or a designated judicial council. In other states, judges are elected by the public. In general elections, candidates compete for the judgeship through campaigns and public voting.

[Last updated in June of 2023 by Iain Richards with the Wex Definitions Team]