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What does a Civil Officer do?

By Nicholas K.
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A civil officer is a government official who is responsible for duties authorized by a constitution or charter. National officers include presidents, judges, and political appointees who are responsible for serving at the leisure of the public. The term civil excludes members of the military who serve under separate codes of conduct. Civil officers at the local and regional level include city administrators, magistrates, and sheriffs who often carry out extensive duties for their constituents. These duties range from officiating civil marriages to issuing court documents and repossessing property.

Article Two of the U.S. Constitution, for example, summarizes the duties of an executive civil officer in a democracy, in this case the president. This section details the power of the executive office including authority over the Armed Forces. The president is also tasked with appointing ambassadors and Supreme Court justices with the consent of the legislative branch of government. Appointment powers for the president have been expanded since 1789 to cover district court judges and executive branch department heads who serve as long as the president is satisfied with their performance.

Civil officers are more often associated with local and regional positions with direct contact to the public. Town charters and regional law outline the limitations on the powers of civil officers. Governors are often provided power to control regional police forces and National Guard troops, veto legislation, and appoint local judges. Mayors and city administrators are asked to preside over city council meetings and hearings, enact ordinances, and carry out other municipal duties. Additional duties of these local civil officials can include appointing temporary replacements for absent council members.

Local magistrates and judges conduct civil marriages as part of their duties as civil officers. Couples looking for alternatives to costly weddings can opt for a simple ceremony with a civil officer. The local magistrate oversees the signing of marriage documents in front of witnesses. These documents are filed immediately with the magistrate’s office and couples need not worry about extravagant ceremonies or religious conversions. The duties of this civil officer go beyond civil marriages to presiding over court cases and issuing warrants, repossessions, and other court orders.

Sheriffs are empowered as civil officers to serve court documents and assist judges in carrying out orders. A local sheriff might be tasked with carrying out an order of eviction issued by the local court on behalf of a creditor. The power to collect a debt allows a civil officer to seize assets and property and schedule auctions to recover money for creditors.

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