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Who Is the Chief Justice of the United States Now?

Chief Justice Earl Warren
Chief Justice Earl Warren swearing in Richard Nixon.

The Chief Justice is the head honcho, the top dog, and the leader of the pack when it comes to the highest court in the United States.

Who is the Chief Justice of the United States now?

John Roberts is the current Chief Justice of the United States.

He began his tenure as the Chief Justice in 2005 and is the seventeenth person to operate as the Chief Justice since the United States Supreme Court was formed in 1789.

John Roberts at the swearing-in Ceremony for Deputy Secretary Sullivan .
John Roberts at the swearing-in Ceremony for Deputy Secretary Sullivan.

Roberts was a judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from 2003 until he became the Chief Justice.

He was nominated for the position by President George W Bush in 2005 and sworn into the role on September 29, 2005.

He continues to hold this position today as of  2023.

US Supreme Court Building
US Supreme Court Building

What Differentiates the Chief Justice From All Other Justices?

John Roberts’ role as the Chief Justice makes him an essential United States Supreme Court member, but he also helps manage the federal judicial system.

The Chief Justice has many duties:

  • The Chief Justice presides over the Supreme Court during oral arguments.
  • The Chief Justice votes on cases with the other eight Justices on the court.
  • The Chief Justice holds the most influence over dictating which cases the Supreme Court will hear.
  • In cases where the Chief Justice votes in the majority, that person will determine the Justice who writes the court’s opinion when a ruling is made. The Chief Justice also has the right to write the opinion if he sees fit.
  • Federal judges will be appointed to various other courts by the Chief Justice. As the administrative officer for the federal courts, the Chief Justice will ensure these courts operate well and will have the right to remove judges as necessary.
  • The Chief Justice will administer the oath of office to a person who becomes President, as Chief Justice Roberts did with President Joe Biden.
Obama with john roberts
President Obama took the Presidential Oath with Chief Justice John Roberts.

Does the Chief Justice’s Vote Carry More Weight?

The Chief Justice’s vote holds the same weight as any other Supreme Court Justice. Since there are nine Justices on the Court, any Justice could technically be the tiebreaker in a dispute.

For cases where there is an even number of Justices due to a vacancy in the court or a Justice recusing themselves from a case, the decision made by a lower court will stand.

What Does the Constitution Say About the Chief Justice?

The most peculiar part of the Chief Justice’s position is that the Chief Justice is only mentioned in the Constitution in Article I, Section 3.

The Constitution says that if the President is tried for any crimes, “the Chief Justice shall preside.”

While Article 3, Section 1 lists how the Supreme Court operates, the Chief Justice is not mentioned.

The position was formed in 1789 as part of the Judiciary Act.

supreme court
The supreme court is where the chief justice sits.

How Is the Chief Justice Chosen?

The Chief Justice is chosen in the following way:

  1. The President will choose a nominee for the position.
  2. The Senate will hold hearings surrounding the nominee. The amount of public testimony necessary will vary by person. Roberts went through 17 hours of public hearings in 2005, while Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson had 22 hours of hearings in 2022.
  3. The Senate will vote to confirm or reject the nominee, with a simple majority being necessary. Chief Justice Roberts was confirmed with a 78-22 vote.
Most nominees are confirmed, with Robert Bork being the last to be rejected in 1987.
But the Senate votes for nominees are often based on political ideology, with Elena Kagan in 2010 having been the last Justice to get at least 60 confirmation votes.

Ketanji Brown Jackson was a nominee of President Biden, while President Donald Trump nominated three Justices during his tenure: Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil M. Gorsuch.

Barack Obama also nominated three successful appointees: Merrick B. Garland, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor.

Justice Clarence Thomas was nominated by George H.W. Bush back in 1991.

Biden being sworn in.
Chief Justice John Roberts signing in President Biden

What Qualifications Are Necessary for Becoming a Chief Justice?

The United States Constitution doesn’t have specific qualifications surrounding who can and cannot become a Justice.

There are no rules saying someone has to be a lawyer or have a law degree, but all Justices have training in law.

For example, Robert H. Jackson didn’t have a law degree because he wasn’t old enough when he graduated from law school before joining the court in 1941.

Do You Have To Be a Justice in the Court Before Becoming the Chief Justice?

The Chief Justice doesn’t have to be someone who has served in the court before. Only five of the seventeen Chief Justices in history served as a Justice before moving to the head position.

John Roberts served as a lawyer who argued many cases before the Supreme Court. He was nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2001, eventually taking the top position in 2003.

Prior Chief Justices have come from varied backgrounds:

  • John Jay was the Secretary of State before becoming the first Chief Justice in 1789.
  • Melville Fuller was a state Representative for Illinois and was the Illinois State Bar Association president before being named Chief Justice in 1888.
  • William Howard Taft became the Chief Justice in 1921, eight years after his tenure as the United States President ended.
  • Earl Warren was the Governor of California and left the position in 1953 to become the Chief Justice.
  • Roberts isn’t the only D.C. Circuit judge to become the Chief Justice, as Warren Burger also went from that position to the Chief Justice in 1969.
John Jay
John Jay was the first Chief Justice of the United States.

How Long Can the Chief Justice Serve?

Like any other Justice on the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice has a lifetime appointment to the position. The Chief Justice continues until that person dies, retires, or resigns.

The Chief Justice could also be removed from office after being impeached and convicted.

Nine Chief Justices have died while in office. All but one of the other Justices have retired or have resigned, but no Chief Justice has ever been removed from office following impeachment.

Justice Samuel Chase was impeached in 1804 but was acquitted.

John Rutledge is the only one who was forced out of the position. He was the Chief Justice for 138 days in 1795, as he resigned after his initial nomination to the court during a recess had been rejected.

Who Served as Chief Justice the Longest?

John Marshall had the longest tenure as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He served for 34 years and 152 days from 1801 to his death in 1835.

John Marshall statue
John Marshall had the longest tenure as the Chief Justice of the United States.

Marshall’s tenure is also the fourth-longest run on the Supreme Court, with William O. Douglas serving for 36 years.

Except for John Rutledge, every Chief Justice has served for at least four years.

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