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The Chief Justice of the United States is the head of the United States federal court system (the judicial branch of the federal government of the United States) and the chief judge of the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker. He is one of nine Supreme Court justices; the other eight are the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. Although commonly done, it is incorrect to use the term "Chief Justice of the Supreme Court."

The Chief Justice is the highest judicial officer in the country. He acts as a chief administrative officer for the federal courts and appoints the director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. He also serves as a spokesman for the judicial branch, taking on some responsibilities such as appearing before congressional committees to advocate for higher pay for federal judges.

The Chief Justice leads the business of the Supreme Court. In the case of an impeachment trial of a President, which has occurred twice in American history, the Chief Justice presides over the Senate. In modern tradition, the Chief Justice also has the duty of administering the oath of office of the President of the United States, but this is not required by the Constitution or any other law.

The first Chief Justice was John Jay. The seventeenth and current Chief Justice is John G. Roberts, Jr., who was nominated by President George W. Bush and took office on September 29, 2005 upon his confirmation by the Senate on a vote of 78-22 for confirmation. The salary of the Chief Justice is set by Congress, and it is slightly higher than that of the Associate Justices. , it is $217,400 per year.

Origin, title, and appointment to the post

The United States Constitution does not explicitly establish the office of Chief Justice, but presupposes its existence with a single reference in Article I, Section 3, Clause 6: "When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside." Nothing more is said in the Constitution regarding the office, including any further distinction between the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, who are never mentioned as such in the Constitution.

The office is often incorrectly referred to as "Chief Justice of the Supreme Court." However, specifies the official title as "Chief Justice of the United States". The official title changed at the suggestion of the sixth Chief Justice, Salmon P. Chase, who wished to emphasize the Court's role as a coequal branch of government. By contrast, the other eight members of the Court are officially Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, not "Associate Justices of the United States." In fact, the Chief Justice is the only member of the Court to whom the Constitution refers as a "Justice," and only in Article I. Article III of the Constitution refers to all members of the Supreme Court (and of other federal courts) simply as "Judges."

The Chief Justice, like all other federal judges, is nominated by the President and confirmed to sit on the Court by the Senate. The U.S. Constitution states that all justices of the Court "shall hold their offices during good behavior," meaning that the appointments only end when a justice dies in office, resigns, or is impeached by the House of Representatives and convicted by the Senate.

Some chief justices, like William Rehnquist, were elevated by the President while serving on the bench as an Associate Justice. Justices who are elevated to the position of Chief Justice from that of Associate Justice must again be confirmed by the Senate (a rejection by the Senate, however, does not end their tenure as an Associate Justice—it merely precludes them from serving as Chief Justice). Most chief justices, including Roberts, have been nominated to the highest position on the Court without any previous experience on the Court; indeed some, like Earl Warren, were selected without any prior judicial experience.

Eighteen people have been nominated for Chief Justice and confirmed by the Senate: seventeen served (listed below). William Cushing was chosen in January 1796 but declined the office; Oliver Ellsworth served instead. The Senate subsequently confirmed John Jay to replace Ellsworth, though Jay declined to resume his former high office, citing both the burden of riding circuit and its impact on his health, and his perception of the Court's lack of prestige; John Marshall was nominated and confirmed shortly afterward.


Along with the duties of the associate justices, the Chief Justice has several unique duties.

Impeachment trials

Article I, section 3 of the U.S. Constitution stipulates that the Chief Justice shall preside over impeachment trials of the President of the United States in the U.S. Senate. Two Chief Justices, Salmon P. Chase and William Rehnquist, have had the duty of presiding over the trial in the Senate that follows an impeachment of the President – Chase in 1868 over the proceedings against President Andrew Johnson and Rehnquist in 1999 over the proceedings against President Bill Clinton.

Further, the Chief Justice would preside over the impeachment trial of the Vice President if, under the terms of the 25th Amendment, the Vice President is serving as Acting President. However, no Vice President has been impeached (though Spiro Agnew resigned under threat of impeachment), and none has been Acting President for more than a few hours. Barring that exception, the Vice President would be in the awkward position of presiding over his own impeachment trial as President of the Senate unless he were to voluntarily absent himself and leave the President pro tempore to preside.


The Chief Justice is considered to be the justice with most seniority, independent of the number of years of service in the Court. As a result, the Chief Justice chairs the conferences where cases are discussed and voted on by the justices. The Chief Justice normally speaks first, and so has influence in framing the discussion.

The Chief Justice sets the agenda for the weekly meetings where the justices review the petitions for certiorari, to decide whether to hear or deny each case. The Supreme Court agrees to hear less than one percent of the cases petitioned to it. While Associate Justices may append items to the weekly agenda, in practice this initial agenda-setting power of the Chief Justice has significant influence over the direction of the court.

Despite the seniority and added prestige, the Chief Justice's vote carries no more legal weight than those of the other eight justices. In any decision rendered, he has no legal authority to overrule the verdicts or interpretations of the other eight judges or tamper with them. However, in any vote, the most senior justice in the majority decides who will write the Opinion of the Court. Since the Chief Justice is always considered the most senior member, if he or she is in the majority then the Chief Justice decides who will write the Opinion of the Court. This power to determine the author of the Court's opinion (including the option to select oneself) allows a Chief Justice who is in the majority to influence the historical record. Two justices in the same majority, given the opportunity, might write very different majority opinions (as evidenced by many concurring opinions); being assigned the opinion may also cement the vote of an Associate who is viewed as only marginally in the majority (a tactic that was reportedly used to some effect by Earl Warren). A Chief Justice who knows the Associate Justices can therefore do much—by the simple act of selecting the justice who writes the Opinion of the Court—to affect the "flavor" of the opinion, which in turn can affect the interpretation of that opinion in cases before lower courts in the years to come. It is said that some chief justices, notably Earl Warren and Warren Burger, sometimes switched votes to a majority they disagreed with to be able to use this prerogative of the Chief Justice to dictate who would write the opinion.

Oath of office

The Chief Justice typically administers the oath of office at the inauguration of the President of the United States. This is a traditional rather than constitutional responsibility of the Chief Justice since law empowers any federal and state judge, as well as notaries public, to administer oaths and affirmations. The Constitution does not require that the oath be administered by anyone, simply that it be taken by the President.

If the Chief Justice is ill or incapacitated, the oath is usually administered by the next senior member of the Supreme Courtmarker. Seven times, someone other than the Chief Justice of the United States administered the oath of office to the President. Robert Livingston, as Chancellor of the State of New York (the state's highest ranking judicial office), administered the oath of office to George Washington at his first inauguration; there was no Chief Justice of the United States, nor any other federal judge prior to their appointments by President Washington in the months following his inauguration. William Cushing, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, administered Washington's second oath of office in 1793. Calvin Coolidge's father, a notary public, administered the oath to his son after the death of Warren Harding. This, however, was contested upon Coolidge's return to Washington and his oath was re-administered by Judge Adolph A. Hoehling, Jr. of the District of Columbia Supreme Court. United States District Court Judge Sarah T. Hughes administered the oath to Lyndon Johnson after the John F. Kennedy assassination. John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Chester A. Arthur, and Theodore Roosevelt's initial oaths reflected the unexpected nature of their taking office.

In addition, the Chief Justice ordinarily administers the oath of office to newly appointed and confirmed associate justices, whereas the senior associate justice will normally swear in a new Chief Justice.

Other duties

The Chief Justice also:

Unlike Senators and Representatives who are constitutionally prohibited from holding any other "office of trust or profit" of the United States or of any state while holding their congressional seats, the Chief Justice and the other members of the federal judiciary are not barred from serving in other positions. Chief Justice John Jay served as a diplomat to negotiate the so-called Jay Treaty (aka The Treaty of London of 1794), and Chief Justice Earl Warren chaired the The President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy. As described above, the Chief Justice holds office in the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress.

Disability or vacancy

Under 28 USC 3, when the Chief Justice is unable to discharge his functions, or that office is vacant, his duties are carried out by the most senior associate justice who is able to act, until the disability or vacancy ends.

List of Chief Justices

§ Recess appointment, later rejected by the Senate on December 15, 1795
¤ Previously served as an Associate Justice, but at a time disconnected to service as Chief Justice
° Elevated from Associate Justice
Also served as U.S.President
Died in office
No. Chief Justice Image Term of Office Nominated by President
1 John Jay October 19, 1789–June 29, 1795 George Washington
2 John Rutledge §, ¤ July 1, 1795–December 28, 1795
3 Oliver Ellsworth March 8, 1796–December 15, 1800
4 John Marshall February 4, 1801–July 6, 1835† John Adams (F)
5 Roger Brooke Taney March 28, 1836–October 12, 1864† Andrew Jackson (D)
6 Salmon Portland Chase December 15, 1864–May 7, 1873† Abraham Lincoln (R)
7 Morrison Remick Waite March 4, 1874–March 23, 1888† Ulysses S. Grant (R)
8 Melville Weston Fuller October 8, 1888–July 4, 1910† Grover Cleveland (D)
9 Edward Douglass White ° December 19, 1910–May 19, 1921† William Howard Taft (R)
10 William Howard Taft July 11, 1921–February 3, 1930 Warren G. Harding (R)
11 Charles Evans Hughes ¤ February 24, 1930–June 30, 1941 Herbert Hoover (R)
12 Harlan Fiske Stone ° July 3, 1941–April 22, 1946† Franklin D. Roosevelt (D)
13 Frederick Moore Vinson June 24, 1946–September 8, 1953† Harry S. Truman (D)
14 Earl Warren October 5, 1953–June 23, 1969 Dwight D. Eisenhower (R)
15 Warren Earl Burger June 23, 1969–September 26, 1986 Richard Nixon (R)
16 William Hubbs Rehnquist ° September 26, 1986–September 3, 2005† Ronald Reagan (R)
17 John Glover Roberts, Jr. September 29, 2005–present George W. Bush (R)

See also


  1. US Government Info, salary
  2. See for example the description of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering after Roe v. Wade was argued the first time, in Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong's The Brethren.
  3. Library of Congress. " Presidential Inaugurations: Presidential Oaths of Office."
  4. Excerpt from Coolidge's autobiography.
  5. Prologue: Selected Articles

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