Chief Justice of the United States

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The Chief Justice of the United States is the head of the judicial branch of the U.S. Government. The Chief Justice presides over the Supreme Court, and is therefore sometimes erroneously referred to as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which is not an actual title.

Court obervers claim that the Chief exercises considerable power in guiding the direction of the Court. Most obviously, when the Chief is in the majority in a given case he chooses which justice will write the written opinion; it is generally accepted that some Chief Justices have joined the majority in cases where they actually disagree in order to write a narrow opinion, limiting the effect of the majority view.

The Chief Justice also appoints members of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The current (June 2004) Chief Justice is William Rehnquist, who was named to the position by Ronald Reagan in 1986. The Rehnquist Court is marked by a strong committment to states' rights and real limits on Congressional power, while from a procedural standpoint it is very conscious of its power and prestige.

Important former Chief Justices include John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice, who greatly expanded the Court's power and made it the final word on intergovernmental controversies, Marshall's successor Roger Taney, who penned the reviled Dred Scott decision, and Earl Warren, who presided over a major expansion in the law of individual rights in the 1950's and 60's. For more information, see individual entries.

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