How The Court Works
The Chief Justice's Role
Retired Chief Justice Warren Burger conferred
with Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist at
the White House after the swearing-in ceremony
for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993 ~
The Chief Justice, as presiding officer of the Court, is responsible by statute for its administration, in addition to hearing cases and writing opinions. The duties of the Chief Justice relating to the Court are spelled out in 20 paragraphs of the federal law, and range from assigning Associate Justices (and himself) to the circuits to approving regulations for the protection of the Court building and grounds. In practice, all matters affecting the Justices, procedures of the Court, and other weighty matters are discussed and sometimes voted in conference.
But the statutory duties of the Chief Justice, spelled out in an additional 44 paragraphs of the federal code, extend far beyond the court. He is responsible for the administrative leadership of the entire federal judicial system. He is Chairman of the Judicial Conference of the United States, a “board of trustees” for the federal courts. He chairs the Federal Judicial Center, with its programs of research and education, and oversees the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, “housekeeper” and statistician for the federal court system. The Chief Justice has an administrative assistant to help with these responsibilities.
By statute, the Chief Justice is on the boards of three cultural institutions—the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Hirshorn Museum.