How is a SCOTUS Chief Justice chosen?

Title says it all. I am curious whether the President appoints a justice as Chief Justice or if the SCOTUS justices vote among themselves or if the Senate has anything to do with it or if Chief Justice is just the longest serving member.

As a second question what additional powers, if any, does the Chief Justice of the SCOTUS enjoy that his/her peers do not?

The president appoints the chief justice, and the Senate votes to confirm (or not).

The only thing I’m aware of that the chief justice does that the others don’t is preside over a presidential impeachment trial.

Note also that if an Associate Justice is elevated to the Chief Justice position (as Renquist was in 1986), he has to be reconfirmed by the Senate.

The President names the Chief Justice, either by promoting a current justice or by nominating someone to fill the spot. The Senate confirms (or not) just like any other justice. (I don’t remember there ever being a “not,” however.)

The Chief Justice presides over the Court, which in practice means that he or she gets to decide who actually writes a decision, when the Chief is part of the majority. (If not, the senior member of the majority decides.) This can have long-lasting significance because the varying approaches to an decision can lead to ramifications when it is referenced in the future.

There are various other mostly ceremonial duties, but the power to decide who writes a decision is the biggie. That also leads to informal power in the discussions leading up to the vote, but nothing statutory.

And of course, everyone’s favorite nitpick, it’s Chief Justice of the United States, not Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Can the President, of his own accord, “demote” a Chief Justice and appoint a new one (even if just from among the current list of SCOTUS justices) or once named as Chief Justice is it a life long appointment (barring impeachment)?

Chief Justice is a separate position from Associate Justice, so a CJ cannot be demoted unless he chooses to be. In which case he would have to be appointed associate justice and confirmed again. The President cannot fire any federal judge, but they can be impeached.

Perhaps put another way…

Could President Bush this time around appoint John Roberts Jr. as Chief Justice of the United States supplanting Rehnquist? Rehnquist of course would still be a Supreme Court judge…just not Chief.

Note: I only say the above as a hypothetical. I do not believe Bush would do that even if he could.

Article III, Section 1, of the Constitution says:

The absence of “good Behaviour” would be demonstrated by the impeachment of a Justice by Congress, not by the President demoting him or her.

Shoulda previewed as this makes my post following yours kinda silly.


I understood that the President could not remove a justice but did not know if he could shuffle different people into the Chief Justice position at will (the idea being a “demoted” Chief Justice would still be a Supreme Court justice). Seems like the answer however is no, once Chief Justice always Chief Justice barring impeachment.

In addition to presiding, the Chief Justice has a special place in the general procedures for deciding a case.

Traditionally, when the Justices get together to discuss a case, the Chief Justice gives his opinion first. Then, the other justices speak in the order of seniority on the court.

Then, once everyone has spoken, the least senior justice will vote on the issue. The Chief Justice has the last vote.

(I see that this may have been changed under Rhenquist.)

The Chief Justice also determines who writes the majority opinion, which does have ramifications. If, say, Ginsberg and Scalia were both in the majority, you’d probably get a different explanation for the opinion, depending on who wrote it.

He presides over impeachments, he gets a bigger salary, he assigns opinions if he’s in the majority, and he’s in charge of the actual building and property. He also gets to sit in the middle when the official photograph is taken.

The CJ also gets the best parking space, and office window w/ the best view.

According to Wikipedia, the CJ is also Chancellor of the Smithsonian Institution. However, I can’t find any further corroboration of this. I checked the Smithsonian’s website but couldn’t find anything relative.