He was recommended for a judicial appointment by Senator Al D'Amato. On January 29, 1986 he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to a new seat created by 98 Stat. 333. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on March 3, 1986, and received his commission on March 4, 1986.
McAvoy served as chief judge from 1993 to 2000 and assumed senior status on September 17, 2003.