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Georgetown Law Library

Supreme Court Research Guide

This guide provides background information and suggests resources for further research on the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices of the Court, and the Court's practice and decisions.

Contents

Supreme Court Nominations

Under Article II of the Constitution, the President has the power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint judges of the Supreme Court. Since Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life, each nomination to the Supreme Court has a long-lasting influence on the Court and on the day-to-day life of every American. The most recent successful nomination to the Supreme Court was that of Justice Elena Kagan in 2010.

For more information about the process and recent nominations, consult our Supreme Court Nominations Research Guide.

Financial Disclosures

The Ethics in Government Act of 1978, 5 U.S.C. app. 4 §§ 101-11 (2006) requires Supreme Court Justices and other federal personnel to file periodic financial disclosure statements. The Committee on Financial Disclosure of the Judicial Conference of the United States reviews "financial disclosure reports filed by judges and other judicial branch officers and employees, as required by the Ethics in Government Act, and respond to requests for redaction of such reports, consistent with the Regulations of the Judicial Conference of the United States on Access to Financial Disclosure Reports Filed by Judges and Judiciary Employees Under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, as amended." The Committee also responds "to inquiries regarding financial disclosure matters from judges, employees, and the public." These financial disclosure reports are available:

A request for a report on the Financial Disclosures of Judicial Officers or Employees can be made using a Form AO 10A.

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Chief Justice

The Judiciary Act of 1789, ch. 20, 1 Stat. 73 created the office of the Chief Justice and five associate justices, but the role of the Chief Justice was not described in the act.

Various scholars have written extensively about the role of the Chief Justice over the years and have identified five principal roles of the Chief Justice:

1. PRESIDING OFFICER

The Chief Justice presides over Supreme Court proceedings as well as presidential impeachment trials (U.S. Const. art. 1, § 3, cl.6). Other duties and responsibilities include admitting lawyers to the Supreme Court Bar, enforcing standards of courtroom dress and decorum, controlling the flow of judicial proceedings, serving as Circuit Justice for the busy District of Columbia, Fourth, and Federal Circuits (each Associate Justice is assigned to a circuit court), chairing Court conferences on case selection and on argued cases, and assigning the drafting of Court opinions.

2. COURT MANAGER

The office of the Chief Justice differs from that of an Associate Justice only in the administrative duties, such as being the ceremonial leader where protocol dictates; assigning colleagues as Circuit Justices during recesses (28 U.S.C § 42); assigning a consenting retired predecessor or retiring Associate Justice to perform judicial duties in any circuit (28 U.S.C § 294); signing a certificate of disability for an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court who desires to retire for disability (28 U.S.C § 372(a)).

3. COURT DEFENDER

The Chief Justice plays the role of the court defender, safeguarding the U.S. Supreme Court as an institution, by, for example, controlling the Justices' workload and protecting the status and political independence of the Court.

4. THIRD BRANCH CHIEFTAIN

In 1888, the title of the Chief Justice was changed from "Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States" to "Chief Justice of the United States." See William A. Richardson, Chief Justice of the United States or Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States?, 49 New Eng. Hist. Soc'y Reg. 275, 278 (1895), (implying the importance of the office of Chief Justice not just of the Supreme Court, but of the United States federal judiciary).

The Chief Justice is the chair of the Judicial Conference of the United States. The Conference was created in 1922 at the urging of Chief Justice Taft, and it makes policy and rules with regard to the administration of the United States courts. As the chair, the Chief Justice presides over the Conference and controls the agenda, and he appoints the chairman of over twenty committees.

He is also the Chair of the Board of the Federal Judicial Center. The primary function of the Center is to engage in research, training, and education for the judicial branch. In addition, much of the responsibility of appointing the director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts and overseeing the Administrative Office's work falls on the Chief Justice.

In 1970, Chief Justice Burger started a tradition of publishing an annual report on the federal judiciary. The report is available in the following publications:

  • State of the Federal Judiciary: Annual Reports of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (Shelley L. Dowling ed. 2000) (KF8700 .S67 2000)
    Contains all of the reports from 1970 to present.
     
  • The Third Branch
    The Third Branch, the monthly newsletter of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, summarized the major points of each report from 1970-1989 and has published the full-text of the report in the January issue since 1990. The Third Branch is available in print in the Law Library (K24 .H35) from 1980 to present and electronically from 1968 to present. It's also available free online from 1995 to present through U.S. Courts.
     
  • Various legal journals sporadically published excerpts or the full text of reports, including
     
    • American Bar Association Journal (Law Library has in print from 1915-1983, K1 .M2,and electronically from 1915 - )
       
    • American Journal of Trial Advocacy (Law Library has in print from 1977-2008, K1 .M585 and electronically from 1977 - )
       
    • Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (Available electronically from 1991 - )
       
  • Supreme Court of the United States Website
    Reports from 2000 to present

5. OTHER EXTRA-JUDICIAL ROLES

Some of the functions that the Chief Justice is called upon to perform include administering the oath of office at the inauguration of the President and of governors and secretaries of the several territories and leading important presidential commissions.

REFERENCE AND FURTHER READING:

Collections of Personal Papers

The Law Library also has various books containing Justices' correspondence and other papers, which can be found by searching GULLiver (the library catalog) by subject for "judges united states correspondence" or the Justice's name (last name first).

Finding Aids

Accessing the Papers of Supreme Court Justices

Scotus Blog identifies, and provides a list of, the various repositories that hold individual justice's papers.

Biographies

To find books on individual Justices in the Georgetown Law Library, search GULLiver (the library catalog) by subject for "judges united states biography" or the Justice's name (last name first).