chief justice ship

Chief Justice of the United States

The Chief Justice of the United States is the head of the judicial branch of the government of the United States, and presides over the U.S. Supreme Court. The highest judicial officer in the country, the Chief Justice leads the business of the Supreme Court and presides over the Senate during impeachment trials of the President. In modern tradition, the Chief Justice also has the duty of administering the oath of office to the President, but this is not required by the Constitution or any other law.

The 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 U.S. Senate.

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 Constitution of the United States does not explicitly establish the office of Chief Justice, but presupposes its existence with a single reference in Article I, Section 3: "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 in the Constitution.

The office is often informally but mistakenly 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."

The Chief Justice, like the other justices, is nominated by the President and confirmed to sit on the Court by the U.S. 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, chooses to resign, or is impeached by the House of Representatives and convicted by the Senate.

Some chief justices, like William H. 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 John Marshall and Earl Warren, were selected without any prior judicial experience.


In addition to 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 of 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.


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 great 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. Less than one percent of cases petitioned to the Supreme Court are agreed to be heard. 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. However, in any vote, the most senior justice in the majority has the power to decide 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 choice to select him or herself) 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 his Associates 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 impact 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 in order to be able to use this prerogative of the Chief Justice to dictate who would write the opinion.

Oath of office

The Chief Justice 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. All federal and state judges, as well as notaries public, are empowered by law to administer oaths and affirmations.

The Chief Justice of the United States did not administer the initial oath of office to seven Presidents. Robert Livingston, as Chancellor of the State of New York, administered the oath of office to George Washington at his first inauguration; William Cushing, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, administered the second. 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 A. Hoehling 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.

Other duties

The Chief Justice also:

List of Chief Justices

* Recess appointment, later rejected by the Senate
** Was elevated from Associate Justice
*** Also served as U.S. President
§ Served previously as Associate Justice
§§ Historians disagree as to whether he resigned or declined the commission ()
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 15, 1795 George Washington
William Cushing**§§ February 3, 1796–February 5, 1796 George Washington
3 Oliver Ellsworth March 8, 1796–December 15, 1800 George Washington
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


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