Civic Literacy Curriculum
Question 57: Who is the Chief Justice of the United States now?
Q57: Who is the Chief Justice of the United States now?
A. James Rutland
B. Anthony Kennedy
C. George Johnson
D. John G. Roberts, Jr.
The role of Chief Justice of the United States has come a long way since its inception in 1789. When John Jay accepted the role and the title, he was less than excited about it, for he saw little significance to the position. He held the job for six years before retiring and returning to a diplomatic career.
The longest-serving, and arguably most important, Chief Justice was John Marshall, who established many of the traditions and understandings that still operate today. Although judicial review had been assumed from the early constitutional debates (such as in Federalist 78), and the Supreme Court had assessed the constitutionality of federal laws in its early years, the Supreme Court had not ended up using the power to actually strike down a federal law until Marshall. In the famous case of Marbury v. Madison (1803), Marshall built on the writings of Hamilton and others to give the clearest defense of why the Court was authorized to enforce the Constitution, as the supreme law of the land, in striking down unconstitutional laws while hearing legal disputes. He also initiated the practice in which justices deliver an opinion of the Court—written by one and co-signed by any others who agreed with its logic—rather than each justice writing a separate and similar opinion. This results not only in less work for the justices but with one clear opinion, it means lower courts have an easier time applying precedent.
Some Chief Justices, like Marshall, were appointed directly to be chief justice. Others, such as Edward Douglass White or William Rehnquist, were initially associate justices before being nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate as Chief Justice. John Roberts, the current chief justice, was initially nominated to replace the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor, but after Rehnquist died before Roberts’s confirmation to the associate justice position his nomination was switched to chief justice. (Roberts had been one of Rehnquist’s clerks and served as a pallbearer at his funeral).
There is only one specific duty assigned to the Chief Justice by the Constitution, and that is to preside when the president is on trial. Otherwise, the distinctive responsibilities of the Chief Justice are largely administrative and traditional. The Chief Justice is responsible for presiding over oral arguments in the Supreme Court.
Arguably the most important task of the Chief Justice is assigning who will write the majority opinion once a decision has been made. Although like the associate justices, the Chief Justice casts only one vote, if the Chief Justice is in the majority the chief assigns who writes the opinion— including, perhaps, the chief himself or herself. (If the chief is in dissent, the most senior associate justices assigns the opinion). This helps shape the court’s precedents, since different justices will offer different reasoning in justifying the decision.
The Chief Justice is also responsible for writing an annual report on the state of the court system for Congress, sitting on the boards of various museums, and acting as Chancellor for the Smithsonian Institute. Another traditional role is to administer the Oath of Office for the incoming President of the United States.
This activity will have students read an opinion written by the current Chief Justice, John Roberts, explaining his reasoning in applying the Fourth Amendment to block a search without a warrant. As the case is about cell phones, it will show the students the relevance of the Constitution’s civil liberties protections to their own lives.
- Provide each group with a copy of Riley v. California.
- Provide each group with the 3-2-1 Worksheet.
- A rubric is available if this is a graded activity.
The Teaching Materials for this exercise includes a rubric (3-2-1 Worksheet Rubric).
- This activity works well as an individual assignment. However, depending on the age and/or skills level of the students, you may want to have them work in pairs.
- If that is the case, divide the class into pairs based on the students’ individual levels. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group who have mastered the material and are prepared to extend their knowledge. Pair those who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C).
- Explain to the students that today they are going to read a Supreme Court case written by the current Chief Justice, John Roberts, on the 4th Amendment and cell phones.
- After they complete the reading, they will fill out a 3-2-1 Worksheet where they write down three facts that they learned, two questions that they have, and one opinion about the topic.
- Circulate throughout the room to help students as needed.
- If you wish, once the students complete the worksheet, use it as a springboard into a class discussion.
Below are two discussion prompts that can be used by teachers in a classroom setting.
- The first discussion prompt will be one that is designed to support students that are not really understanding the content in a way that would help them to answer the test question.
- The second discussion prompt will be one that is designed to further student understanding of the content by making real-world connections, including connections to current events and historical events.
Being in charge is never easy. The Chief Justice is charged not only with administering the Supreme Court, but he has many administrative obligations over the rest of the federal judiciary as well.
According to the Constitution, justices of “both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior,” which is understood to mean that they hold their office for life. As a result, there have been fewer than twenty chief justices to date. Who is the Chief Justice of the United States now? Do you know of any decisions he has written?
When we think about the decisions that we make every day -- some big, some small -- we know that in all cases it can be a little nerve-racking. What if we are wrong? Now think about the Supreme Court, which is the highest in the land. Why is it so important that multiple justices weigh in on a decision? Why not just leave it to the Chief Justice alone? How do multiple points of view affect the decision-making process? Support your answer with real-life examples.