United States Magistrates in the Federal Courts: Subordinate Judges

By Christopher E. Smith | Go to book overview

8
Factors That Determine
Magistrates' Roles

The previous chapters' descriptions of illustrative magistrates in representative court contexts provide the basis for analyzing the roles of magistrates within the federal judiciary. Although magistrates are affected by some common role expectations, the factors which guide and constrain magistrates' behaviors can vary widely from district to district. Thus, the magistrates' roles, the behaviors that are characteristic of magistrates within the federal courts, 1 will differ depending upon the operation of defining factors at a given historical moment. As the four sample districts demonstrate, a magistrate's role cannot be regarded as static, because identifiable factors can foster change within specific court contexts.


JUDGES' CONCEPTUALIZATIONS OF MAGISTRATES' ROLES

The study of the four illustrative districts as well as the interviews and observations conducted in the other districts consistently confirmed that the judges, and their expectations concerning the magistrates' appropriate roles, served as the predominant influence over the behaviors and expectations of magistrates. The judges' influence stems not simply from the inherent power of their expectations as superiors and supervisors over the magistrates, but also from the statutory, constitutional, and case law underpinnings of the magistrate system, which give legal authority and actual power to the judges' conceptualizations. Legal considerations are not an exclusive influence over judges' expectations by any means. Given the political and constitutional framework of the judiciary, however, legal factors, such as the magistrates statute, have a degree of primacy in setting the boundaries and guiding the development and actualization of the judicial officers' roles.

The district judges' formal authority does not inherently guarantee that they will have the primary actual influence over role definition for the subordinate magistrates. It is possible in the context of some

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