The Consequences of a Subordinate Judicial Officer
This study of magistrates' tasks and status in various districts revealed that the roles of magistrates, namely their characteristic behaviors and the sum of relevant actors' expectations, can differ dramatically from courthouse to courthouse. Despite these divergent roles, by viewing the U.S. magistrates from a more macroscopic perspective, the magistrates' common functional consequences for the judiciary and the political system can be identified. These consequences are discernible across diverse districts and throughout the federal judiciary.
The consequences of magistrates' roles can be best understood through a general adaptation of Robert King Merton's structural functional analysis, most famously applied by Merton to illustrate the functional consequences of the urban political machine. 1 Structural functionalism posits that organizational structure has functional consequences that determine its contribution to the political system. In this instance, the organizational structure includes the overriding statutory design of a flexibly utilized tier of subordinate federal judicial officers and the characteristics of particular districts and court- house environments that define the magistrates' roles and tasks. The functional consequences can be examined according to Merton's scheme which distinguishes manifest from latent functions in order to "preclude the inadvertent confusion . . . between conscious motivations for social behavior and its objective consequences."2
Manifest functions are "those objective consequences for a specified unit," in this case the political system of the federal judiciary, "which contribute to its adjustment or adaptation and were so intended." 3 Thus, one can examine systemic results from the intentions of legislative and judicial actors in creating and implementing the office of U.S. Magistrate and in shaping particular roles for magistrates within the district courts. By contrast, the latent functions are the unintended and unrecognized consequences for the political system. Although consequences are frequently and matter-of-factly referred to as functional in contributing to or maintaining a system, consequences--both manifest and latent--may also be dysfunctional when they do not lead