There are three branches of government: the legislative, executive and judicial. The judicial branch has roles and duties that include dispute resolution, law interpretation, protection of individual rights and the determination of innocence or guilt of accused individuals, and it also acts as a check upon the other two branches of government. The judicial branch is made up of courts, namely supreme courts, circuit courts of appeal and district courts.
The most prestigious jobs in the judicial branch are those of judges. There are Supreme Court judges, judges of the court of appeals and district court judges. In the U.S. Supreme Court, there are nine judges, called justices. Of those nine, one is selected to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Appointment as a justice is only by nomination by the president, and requires extensive knowledge, education and experience in the judicial branch. Like Supreme Court justices, judges in the court of appeals and district judges are appointed by the president. All judges are appointed for life, or until they resign or are impeached by Congress following improper behavior. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008 the Chief Justice earned $217,400, Supreme Court justices made $208,100, court of appeal judges earned a median of $179,500, and district court judges made $169,300.
Magistrates are appointed by district courts and can be hired and fired, unlike judges. Magistrates are usually lawyers with extensive experience who aid the district judge for whom they work in their court cases, both civil and criminal. As stated on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, magistrates earned an average of $155,756 in 2008.
Clerks are lawyers who assist judges with research and preparing legal documents. Law clerks read and review the petitions received by the court and write memoranda about the petitions, which the judge uses to decide which cases she will accept for review. Clerks also write draft opinions for the judge, which the judge reviews before issuing an official statement. Clerks are also employed by the court to administer its routine business. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for law clerks is $38,390, with the top percentile earning $66,690.
Attorneys, or lawyers, are employed in various capacities within the judicial branch, and extensively outside of the judicial branch in business, education and other areas of government. Within the judicial branch, attorneys must be licensed in what is known as admittance to the bar. The Multistate Bar Examination, required of most attorneys working within the judicial branch, is six hours long and extremely challenging. Attorneys represent different parties in court cases. Some are employed by the government, and others are private attorneys working within the judiciary. Attorneys' salaries vary greatly across their different roles, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the median wage of all types of lawyers was $110,590 in 2008.
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