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040 Who is the Chief Justice of the United States?

40. Who is the Chief Justice of the United States?
John Roberts (John G. Roberts, Jr.)

The Supreme Court is the highest (or most important) court in the United States, so it makes sense that the leader of the Supreme Court, known as the Chief Justice, is the highest (or most important) judge in the U.S. government.

The Chief Justice has all the same responsibilities as the Associate Justices for hearing cases (or listening to lawsuits and stating a legal opinion). However, the
Chief Justice also has many other responsibilities.

When the nine justices of the Supreme Court discuss (or talk about) cases, the Chief Justice must lead the discussion. The Chief Justice speaks first, and this gives him or her the power to influence (or affect) the discussion. The Chief Justice also makes the agenda (or plan for what will be discussed) for each weekly meeting where the justices decide which cases they are going to hear.

When the justices vote on a case, the Chief Justice’s vote is equal to (or has the same importance as) the other eight votes. However, the Chief Justice gets to
decide who will write the court’s opinion (or a written document explaining what the court decided and why). Because the Chief Justice knows each justice’s writing style and opinions, he or she can pick the one who will write an opinion that describes the case as he or she would want it to be described. That is an important way for the Chief Justice to influence the work of the Supreme Court, since lawyers and other judges often go back to read the Supreme Court’s opinions and use them to make other legal decisions later.

When the U.S. president is inaugurated (or first begins working as the president), the Chief Justice states the oath (or promises that are made before entering a public office) that the new president must repeat.

The Chief Justice also must preside over (or lead) impeachment trials for the U.S. president. An impeachment trial happens when the members of Congress believe that the president is doing his or her job very poorly or has done something very wrong and want to vote to have the job of president taken away from him or her.


to hear a case – to decide on a legal issue; to hear what both parties have to say about a legal issue and then make a decision about which party is correct
* It must be very sad and depressing for judges to hear divorce cases all day.

to discuss (something) – to talk about something; to have a conversation about something
* In tomorrow's lecture, we'll discuss the topics in the first part of chapter 13 from your textbook.

to influence (something) – to affect something; to change something, especially how people think or act
* Darwin's theory of evolution influenced the way we thought about what it means to be human.

agenda – a plan for what will be discussed at a meeting; a person's plan for what he or she wants to get done while working in a public job
* Today's agenda includes a 10-minute presentation by Ms. Jenkins.

opinion – a written document explaining what a court (especially the Supreme Court) decided and why
* The law students have to read and summarize two court opinions by Thursday.

to inaugurate (someone) – to have an official ceremony when a person first begins working in a public position or job
* President Jackson was inaugurated in 1829.

oath – the promises that one makes orally (spoken) when beginning to work in a public position or job
* All of the police officers have to take an oath, promising to protect the people who live in the city.

to preside over (something) – to lead something; to be responsible for something; to be in charge of something
* The minister will preside over Tom and Shanda’s wedding ceremony.

impeachment trial – a series of meetings where Congress decides whether the U.S. president is doing his or her job so badly that the presidency should be taken away from him or her
* Do you think the president should resign before his impeachment trial begins?