Federal Courts and Application Timing

Federal Courts and Application Timing

There are eleven different types of federal court clerkships. Please see below for an overview of each.

U.S. Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court is the highest court in the federal court system. Each year this court reviews a limited number of cases from lower federal courts and the highest state courts. These cases usually involve important questions about the Constitution or federal law. The nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are appointed for life by the President with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. The court sits in Washington, D.C. Unlike other clerkships, the Supreme Court justices require applicants to clerk for at least one year in the federal court of appeals.

U.S. Court of Appeals

The U.S. Courts of Appeals (circuit courts) are the intermediate appellate courts in the federal judiciary. The judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a U.S. Court of Appeals (First – Eleventh and D.C. Circuit). These courts hear appeals from the district courts within each circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies. Circuit court judges are appointed for life by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. These judges sit in various courthouses within the jurisdiction of the circuit.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit is an intermediate appellate court that has nationwide jurisdiction in specialized cases, such as those involving patent laws arising from the district courts. This court also has jurisdiction over appeals from the Court of International Trade, U.S. Court of Federal Claims, U.S. Court of Veteran Appeals, International Trade Commission, Board of Contracts, Patent and Trademark Office, and Merit Systems Protection Board. As with the circuit judges discussed above, these judges are appointed for life by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. This court sits in Washington, D.C. Students with backgrounds in engineering, science, mathematics, or previous work experience in these fields are ideal clerkship candidates.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces

Formerly the Court of Military Appeals, this court exercises world-wide appellate jurisdiction over court-martial cases involving United States military personnel. As the website states, cases on the docket address a broad range of legal issues, including constitutional law, criminal law, evidence, administrative law, and national security law. The five judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces are civilians appointed for 15-year terms by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. The court is located in Washington, D.C.

U.S. District Court

The U.S. District Courts are the general trial courts of the federal court system with jurisdiction to hear nearly all categories of federal cases, including both civil and criminal matters. There are 94 federal judicial districts, including at least one district in each state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Three territories of the United States (the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands) have district courts that hear federal cases as well. Except for the judges for the three territorial courts, district judges are appointed for life by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. These judges sit in various courthouses within the federal judicial districts. Judicial clerks within this court are exposed to a wide variety of criminal and civil cases at all stages of litigation.

U.S. Magistrate Judge

U.S. Magistrate Judges are judicial officers appointed to serve in a U.S. District Court for a term of eight years. Although these judicial officers officially "report" to the district court judges, the role of U.S. Magistrates in the adjudication of civil cases has expanded so that they now have judicial responsibilities similar to those of district court judges. Since U.S. Magistrates cannot conduct trials for felony criminal cases, the workload is more civil than criminal. The specific responsibilities of U.S. Magistrates vary by court (look in the court's local rules for details), but some of the typical duties include the following: serving as a judge for the trial of civil cases when all parties consent; ruling on pretrial motions; conducting pretrial and discovery proceedings; serving as special masters in civil cases; deciding dispositive motions by issuing a "report and recommendation" for the district judge to approve; issuing search warrants upon findings of probable cause; and conducting preliminary hearings in criminal cases.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court has exclusive jurisdiction over bankruptcy cases and therefore handles the petitions of all individuals and companies seeking bankruptcy relief. However, this court's caseload involves much more than standard bankruptcy law issues. Complex issues of commercial law (contracts, secured transactions and negotiable instruments), consumer law, and real estate law are often related to the debtor's case. Bankruptcy judges are appointed by a majority of judges on the court of appeals for a term of 14 years. Each federal judicial district has a bankruptcy court that sits in the same general location as the U.S. District Court.

U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims

The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims is an intermediate appelate court with exclusive jurisdiction over the decisions of the Board of Veterans' Appeals on the motion of claimants. Such cases include all types of veterans' and survivors' benefits, mainly disability benefits, but also loan eligibility and educational benefits. This court's decisions are subject to limited review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The seven judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. The court is based in Washington, D.C., but may sit anywhere in the United States.

U.S. Tax Court

The U.S. Tax Court is a trial court with jurisdiction over controversies between taxpayers and the Internal Revenue Service involving underpayment of federal income, gift, and estate taxes. This court's decisions may be appealed to the federal courts of appeals and are subject to the review of the Supreme Court. The 19 tax court judges are appointed by the President for terms of 15 years. This court hears cases in approximately 80 cities, but its offices are located in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Court of Federal Claims

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims is a trial court with nationwide jurisdiction over most suits against the federal government for money damages in excess of $10,000. This court handles a variety of cases, including tax refunds, federal taking of private property for public use, constitutional and statutory rights of military personnel and their dependents, back-pay demands from civil servants claiming unjust dismissal, persons injured by childhood vaccines, and federal government contractors suing for breach of contract. Note that the district courts have exclusive jurisdiction over tort claims and concurrent jurisdiction over tax refunds. Review of decisions in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims lies in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The 16 judges of the U.S. Claims Court are appointed for terms of 15 years by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. The court's headquarters are in Washington, D.C., but cases are heard at other locations convenient to the parties involved.

U.S. Court of International Trade

Formerly the U.S. Customs Court, the U.S. Court of International Trade is a trial court with jurisdiction over cases involving international trade and customs duties. Most of its cases concern the classification and valuation of imported merchandise, customs duties, and unfair import practices by trading partners. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has appellate review of this court's decisions. The nine judges of the U.S. Court of International Trade are appointed for life by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. The court sits in New York City and on occasion at other places.

Steps for Researching Federal Court Clerkships:

  1. OSCAR is the first place to look for judge-specific hiring information. It is a searchable database of circuit judges, district judges, magistrate judges, bankruptcy judges, and other federal judges. NOTE: This is not an exhaustive list! Even if a judge is not listed, he or she may be hiring clerks.

  2. Check the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (OSCAR) - https://oscar.symplicity.com/ - for judges participating in this internet-based application system. ONLY apply to these judges through OSCAR (do not send paper applications).

  3. Look at the court's website for any judicial clerkship hiring information (rarely present). Go to http://www.uscourts.gov/links.html for links to federal court websites.

  4. If the above resources fail to answer your questions, use the Judicial Yellow Book and/or Almanac of the Federal Judiciary to identify judges by jurisdiction. It is acceptable to call chambers or the court with inquiries about application timing and requirements when the available resources fail to answer your questions. If you do not have time to call chambers, you can assume that these judges are accepting applications as of June 28, 2013 and send the standard application materials (cover letter, resume, law school transcript, writing sample, and two or three letters of recommendation). Note: The Judicial Yellow Book is only accessible when you are on the WCL network here at the law school.

  5. Go to CareerLink for judge and court-specific hiring information for some federal courts.

  6. Speak with professors, WCL alumni, and OCPD counselors about particular judges.

*See the Judicial Clerkship Resources section of this website for more information.