The United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois is the federal trial court for the Central Illinois area. The judges of this court are federal judges, not state court judges (a common misconception among many people unfamiliar with law and courts). In this court there are district judges, magistrate judges, senior judges, and a chief judge.
District judges, also known as Article III judges, are nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by the United States Senate as is set forth in Article III of the United States Constitution. District judges are appointed for lifetime terms of office, provided they exhibit "good behaviour" according to Article III of the Constitution. Senior judges and the chief judge are district judges--these special designations will be explained below.
Magistrate judges are appointed by the district judges for eight-year terms of office, which may be renewed indefinitely. Magistrate judges handle most of the pre-trial matters in the cases referred to them by the district judges. Magistrate judges make recommendations to the district judges regarding the cases referred to them. If all parties to a civil lawsuit so consent, they may have their case presided over from beginning to end by a magistrate judge.
Senior judges are district judges who have reached a certain combination of age and years of service on the federal bench. Senior judges may preside over as many or as few cases as they so choose. Senior status is meant to be a form of retirement or semi-retirement for district judges. However, fully fifteen percent of the annual judicial work of the federal courts is performed by senior judges--an impressive statistic and an immense body of work.
The chief judge is the administrative head of the court. Every seven years, a new chief judge is named based on seniority. The chief judge is the district judge in regular active service (in other words, who is not a senior judge) who is senior in commission of those district judges who are (1) 64 years of age or under; (2) have served for one year or more as a district judge; and (3) have not previously served as chief judge.
For general information about the federal courts, including federal judges, see "Inside the Federal Courts," an interactive web site developed by the Federal Judicial Center to educate citizens about the federal courts and how they work.