The presiding, most senior, or principal judge of a court. Although the office of the chief justice of the SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES is a prestigious position, the functions and powers of the chief justice are not well-defined. The U.S. Constitution contains only one mention of the chief justice, in Article I, Section 3, and it concerns the IMPEACHMENT of the president: "When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside." The JUDICIARY ACT OF 1789, which created the Supreme Court, specified only "[t]hat the supreme court of the United States shall consist of a chief justice and five associate justices" (1 Stat. 73). As a result, each individual who has occupied the post has had the freedom to shape and define the role.
Like the associate justices of the Supreme Court, the chief justice is appointed for life by the president but must first be confirmed by the Senate. Prior service on the Court is not required, though several chief justices, including HARLAN F. STONE and WILLIAM H. REHNQUIST, served as associate justices before becoming chief justice. Many chief justices served in other branches of government before joining the Court: JOHN MARSHALL and ROGER B. TANEY were cabinet members, EDWARD D. WHITE was a U.S. senator, and EARL WARREN was governor of California. Other chief justices came to the Court as judges from lower federal and state courts or practiced law prior to their appointments.
The chief justice's primary duty is to preside over all Supreme Court proceedings, both those open to the public and those held in private. The chief justice traditionally opens and closes the public sessions in which the Court hears oral arguments. He or she wields the most influence in closed-door proceedings. The chief justice determines which decisions the Court will discuss in conferences where the justices choose the cases they will accept for review. The chief justice also leads the private discussions on cases recently argued. After presenting the facts and issues in such a case and the relevant law, the chief justice states her or his conclusions and casts a vote. The discussion continues in order of seniority, with each associate justice presenting her or his views and vote.
If the chief justice is in the majority after voting has concluded, he or she assigns the writing of the opinion in the case. This critical responsibility provides the chief justice with an important opportunity to influence the out-come of the case, since he or she can assign the case to a justice who he or she believes has similar views. The chief justice may also assign the authorship of the opinion to himself or herself, as many chief justices have done in cases involving far-reaching constitutional issues. If the chief justice is not in the majority, the senior justice in the majority has the power of assignment.
The chief justice is also responsible for the overall management of the Supreme Court, including the oversight and supervision of the Court's clerks, marshal, reporter of decisions, librarian, and other officers, and the handling of various personnel management issues. The chief justice estimates the Court's budget and designates the officials to present it to the appropriate congressional committees. Although the chief justice is expected to avoid overt participation in political activities, many have acted as public advocates for the Court before Congress. WILLIAM H. TAFT, the only chief justice to have also served as president, actively promoted the Judiciary Act of 1925. That landmark legislation, designed to help the Court manage its large backlog of cases, gave the Court almost unlimited discretion to decide the cases it would accept for review. WARREN E. BURGER, chief justice from 1969 to 1986, lobbied for the establishment of a national court of appeals to help alleviate the backlog of federal cases and actively promoted other judicial reform proposals. In 1988, Rehnquist, appointed to succeed Burger,
|Succession of Supreme Court Justices|
|This table is designed to aid the user in identifying the succession of justices on the Supreme Court. Read vertically, the table lists the succession of justices in each position of the Court and the years served by each.|
|The number of justices constituting the Supreme Court has varied. Initially, the Court comprised six justices, but Congress increased the number to seven in 1807, to nine in 1837, and then to ten in 1863. In 1866, Congress reduced the number of justices to eight in an effort to prevent President Andrew Johnson from making any appointments to the Court. As a result, the positions of John Catron, who died in 1865, and James M. Wayne, who died in 1867, were abolished. In 1869, Congress raised the number of justices to nine, where it has remained. William Strong, the first justice appointed under the new statute, has generally been considered to have succeeded Wayne. Thus, Catron is the only person who has held the tenth seat on the Court.|
|Chief||Justices Associate Justices|
|aAppointment not confirmed.|
|bAssociate justice, 1894–1910.|
|cAssociate justice, 1925–1941.|
|dLater chief justice, 1910–1921.|
|eAppointment as chief justice but not confirmed; resigned.|
|gAssociate justice, 1971–1986.|
|hLater chief justice, 1941–1946.|
|iLater chief justice, 1986–.|
|J. Rutledgea||T. Johnson||Story||Washington||Blair||Moore||Trimble||McKenna||Campbell|
|Ellsworth||Paterson||Woodbury||Baldwin||S. Chase||W. Johnson||McLean||Stoneh||Davis|
|J. Marshall||Livingston||Curtis||Grier||Duvall||Wayne||Swayne||R. Jackson||Harlan|
|S. P. Chase||Nelson||Gray||Woods||Daniel||Shiras||Brewer||Rehnquisti||Sanford|
|E. Whiteb||E. Whited||Frankfurter||Peckham||Moody||Murphy||Sutherland||Stewart|
|Taft||Van Devanter||Goldberg||Lurton||J. Lamar||Clark||Reed||O'Connor|
was instrumental in the passage of the Judicial Improvements and Access to Justice Act (Pub. L. 100–702, Nov. 19, 1988, 102 Stat. 4642), which was intended to make the appeal process more efficient by reducing the Supreme Court's mandatory appeal jurisdiction.
Another responsibility of the chief justice is to oversee the administration of the entire federal judiciary. In 1922, Congress established the
JUDICIAL CONFERENCE OF THE UNITED STATES, the governing body for the administration of the federal judicial system. As chair of the conference, the chief justice presides over the conference's biannual meeting, manages the agenda, and appoints committees. The chief justice also chairs the ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE U.S. COURTS, created in 1939 during Taft's term as chief justice, and the FEDERAL JUDICIAL CENTER, established in 1967 under Warren. Like the Judicial Conference, these organizations are also involved in the administration and management of the federal judiciary with the chief justice playing a major role in the selection of directors and other personnel to run them.
Congress has also provided chief justices with a number of duties not specially related to the judiciary. The chief justice traditionally serves as a member of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution and sits on the Board of Trustees of the National Gallery of Art, both located in Washington, D.C.
Congressional Quarterly. 1989. Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court. 2d ed. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly.
Witt, Elder. 1993. The Supreme Court A to Z: A Ready Reference Encyclopedia. Vol. 3 of the Encyclopedia of American Government series. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly.
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