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Duties of the Chief Justice of the United States

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Often incorrectly called the "Chief Justice of the Supreme Court," the Chief Justice of the United States not only presides over the Supreme Court, he or she serves as the head of the judicial branch of the federal government.

The other eight members of the Supreme Court are called "Associate Justices of the Supreme Court."

In addition to the duties of the Associate Justices, the Chief Justice has the following additional duties:

  • The Chief Justice enters the courtroom first and casts the first vote when the justices deliberate. The Chief Justice's vote carries has no more influence than the votes of the Associate Justices.

  • If the Chief Justice votes with the majority in a case decided by the Supreme Court, he or she may choose to write the Court's opinion, or to assign the task to one of the Associate Justices.

  • The Chief Justice sits as the judge in impeachments of the President of the United States. Only two Chief Justices have ever served this roll: Chief Justices, Salmon P. Chase presided over the Senate trial of President Andrew Johnson in 1868, and the late William H. Rehnquist presided over the trial of President William Clinton in 1999.

  • The Chief Justice presides over the impeachment trial of the Vice President if the Vice President is serving as Acting President (a Senate rule, not provided for by the Constitution).

  • The Chief Justice swears in the President of the United States at inaugurations. This is a purely traditional role. According to law, any federal or state judge, even a notary-public, is empowered to administer oaths of office.

  • The Chief Justice serves as Chancellor of the Smithsonian Institution, and sits on the boards of the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshorn Museum.

  • The Chief Justice writes an annual report to Congress about the state of the federal court system.

  • The Chief Justice serves as the head of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the chief administrative body of the U.S. federal courts. The Judicial Conference is empowered by the Rules Enabling Act to promulgate rules to ensure the smooth operation of the federal courts.

    Just like the Associate Justices, the Chief Justice of the United States is nominated by the President of the United States and must be confirmed by a majority vote of the U.S. Senate. Also like the Associate Justices, the Chief Justice serves until retirement, death or impeachment.

    The Chief Justice is also paid more than the Associate Justices. In 2009, the yearly salary of the Chief Justice was set at $217,400, while the salary of an Associate Justice was $208,100.

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