How to Become Chief Justice

Career Overview

When the United States Constitution was formed, the founders laid the foundation for the court systems in this country. Each state, as well as the federal government, has its own version of a Supreme Court. It is the highest court in the federal and state judicial system and headed by the Chief Justice. Setting your sites on the Chief Justice position means you aspire to be the key leader of the Supreme Court.

At the state level, a Supreme Court Chief Justice will preside over issues that directly affect the citizens of that particular state. They also oversee any cases that have an impact on state laws, and state constitutional cases. The federal Supreme Court Chief Justice operates on a national scale, presiding over cases that have national outcomes--including hearing cases when states take each other to court. The federal Supreme Court also has jurisdiction over anything to do with the United States Constitution.

Roles and Duties as Chief Justice

Presiding as the highest court officer, the Chief Justice position carries the duty and responsibility of overseeing court proceedings and arguments. It is also a Supreme Court Chief Justice’s duty to determine meeting agendas, and serve as the voice of the Supreme Court when verdicts and decisions are handed down. The federal Supreme Court Chief Justice also bears the responsibility of the impeachment process of the President of the United States if such action becomes necessary.

Places of Work

The federal Supreme Court Chief Justice works in Washington DC at the United States Supreme Court building near the Capitol. Each state Supreme Court Chief Justice will work out of the state Supreme Court building. The courts are often in close proximity to other government centers and buildings.

Education and Training

The Supreme Court Chief Justice is an appointed position. At the federal level, a Supreme Court judge position can be maintained for the life of the judge as long as they keep in good standing, which includes the Chief Justice. While there isn’t a specific job description required for the Supreme Court Chief Justice, there is still a particular career track that most will follow according to supremecourt.gov.

Because a Supreme Court Chief Justice oversees the highest court, it is imperative the judge has deep knowledge of state and federal laws, and how our political system works. Many judges will obtain a law degree (although this has not always been the case historically).

One undergraduate degree that helps prepare the student to enter law school, and eventually, prepare for the Supreme Court position, is a degree in political science. This degree gives a broad overview of all manner of politics and law in the United States, including foreign policy.

Apart from a formal education, Supreme Court Justices often start their careers serving in lower level judicial positions including law clerk, presiding over lower courts, and practicing law as an attorney.

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Salary Information and Job Outlook

The job for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is of course very limited. The position only opens when a Justice retires, a death occurs, or for some reason is removed from the bench. The current salary for the federal Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is $223,500 annually.

On the state level, Supreme Court Justice salaries vary. For instance, a Supreme Court Justice in New York makes just under $140,000 a year as reported in “The Chief Justice of the United States: Responsibilities of the Office and Process for Appointment.” In 2008 the highest paid Supreme Court Justice was in California with an annual salary of just over $218,000. The lowest salary at that time was Mississippi at $112,530. The average salary, according to National Center for State Courts website was $147,763 per year.

General Resources

Education

Career Specialties

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