The Role of the Chief Justice [No. 86]
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The Role of the Chief Justice [No. 86]


There was relatively little discussion about
the role of the Chief Justice at the time of the framing, and the Constitution itself
says relatively little about the Chief Justice. The only mention of a Chief Justice in the
Constitution is in Article I, Section 3, which provides that when a President is impeached,
the Chief Justice should supervise the trial. The Constitution really left to Congress,
uh, the responsibility of specifying the powers of the Chief Justice and indeed of the Justices
of the Supreme Court, uh, more generally, and many of the powers of the Chief Justice
have evolved really as a matter of custom rather than as a matter of, uh, legal, uh,
mandate or responsibility. The Chief Justice of the United States is
a position that was originally established by The Judiciary Act of 1789, and the Chief
Justice has, uh, certain responsibilities that are assigned, uh, by Congress. The Chief Justice is a separate position on
the Supreme Court, and so the President has to nominate someone to become the Chief Justice. There have been 17 Chief Justices in American
history. Five of them had previously served as Associate
Justices on the court, uh, but that is not a requirement. Anyone can be nominated to be Chief Justice
of the United States. The principal daily responsibilities of the
Chief Justice are threefold. First, to preside over oral arguments at the
court. Uh, second, to run the court’s, uh, internal
business, uh, including to preside over meetings of the Justices when the Justices are deciding
how cases should come out or which cases the court should hear. And, third, the Chief Justice has a significant
administrative responsibility as the formal head of the federal court system. At oral argument, the Chief Justice presides
over the proceedings, and so he, uh, announces each case, he guides the questioning. If more than one Justice asks a question at
once, he determines, uh, who gets to go first. Uh, and, of course, he asks his own questions
as well. The Chief Justice presides over the court’s
discussions of cases, and the court goes around the room with the Chief Justice speaking first
when they discuss cases. If the Chief Justice is in the majority, he,
by custom, has the authority to assign the court’s opinion to one of the other Justices
in the majority or to keep that opinion himself if he so chooses. If the Chief Justice is in dissent, he does
not have that authority. It goes to the next most senior Justice. But because the majority of the court’s cases
are decided, uh, either unanimously or by substantial margins, the Chief Justice more
often than not is the one who decides who gets to write the opinion for the court. And that is a substantial way in which the
Chief Justice influences the direction of the law. The Chief Justice does not control which cases
the court hears. Uh, that’s up to all of the Justices, and
it takes four votes, uh, out of the nine Justices in order to grant review. And even if the Chief Justice disagrees with
the other Justices, they can override him and hear a case. The Chief Justice largely has the same responsibility
as other members of the court, but the Chief Justice does have a variety of additional,
uh, responsibilities, both substantive and ceremonial. Perhaps the most interesting is that the Chief
Justice is, by statute, the chancellor of the Smithsonian Institution, and so the Chief
Justice is actually in charge of the Smithsonian. The Chief Justice has a variety of subsidiary
responsibilities, such as presiding over the various committees of the federal courts,
working on the federal rules that govern court proceedings and the like. I think that the Chief Justice is not just
the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice’s formal title is Chief
Justice of the United States, and I think that that reflects the fact that the Chief
Justice really is the most senior judicial figure in the judicial system.

2 Comments

  • Eddie Brahhh

    Robert’s position in Kisor is embarrassing. He’s more interested in making sure the liberal justices feel good about their service on the Court than being true to his own principles. He may have anxiety problems.

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