New Book - The Chief Justice : Appointment and Influence

The Chief Justice : Appointment and Influence, David J. Danelski and Artemus Ward, editors, University of Michigan Press, 2016

Print - Law Library Stacks: KF8748 .C385 2016

Online - Project Muse eBooks (UW NetID required)

The Chief Justice : Appointment and Influence presents a series of studies by leading scholars of judicial politics grounded in the theory and research of the social sciences.

The first three chapters are written by a pioneer in the field, David J. Danelski.  Two of these, one a theoretical study of the chief justice's influence in the Supreme Court's decisional process and the other an empirical study of opinion assignment by the chief justice, he presented as papers in 1960 at professional meetings.  These are foundational research studies whose observations are relevant yet today.  Together with co-editor, Artemus Ward, they compile subsequent studies employing research methods developed since.  The hallmark being the use of statistical modeling for the study of behavior.

The book moves on next to review the dimensions of becoming the chief, and why presidents nominate one candidate over others as chief justice?  In the two chapters that follow, both authors focus on the past ten nominations to chief justice.  From this research, it is suggested that presidents do approach the selection of chief justice differently from that of associate justice.  Qualities that are important and seem to mark success are social leadership and administrative skill (task leadership).  Which makes sense when considering the chief's role in presiding over oral argument and running the Court's conferences.  Of the past ten nominations, six enjoyed relatively comfortable confirmations before the Senate, while four were contentious.  A presidency focused political regimes model, as opposed to an attitudinal type model, was used in the analysis and the results suggest that senators are driven by ideological and political concerns during divisive confirmation battles.

The next eight chapters examine the chief justice's influence on the bench.  Topics reviewed include case selection, oral argument, opinion assignment, and case outcomes.  Evidence is provided on the ways chiefs have attempted to exercise leadership, and how successful they have been throughout the decision-making process.  In chapter seven, for example, the authors use findings from prior research on opinion assignment to construct a model that predicts who opinions will be assigned to.  One result is "chiefs assign the most important cases to their ideological allies while also balancing the needs of overall equitable distribution and the expertise of justices in certain areas of the law."  A later chapter asks whether new chief justices enjoy a "honeymoon effect" early in their tenure?  The remainder of the studies in Part III focus on the chief's leadership in terms of their role as an opinion writer, examining the language used whether it be positive or negative, and the chief's influence in statutory interpretation.

The book concludes with a look at the chief justice's influence off the bench.  The Chief Justice of the United States has many other duties beyond the Supreme Court.  They are the administrative leader of the federal judiciary as chair of the Judicial Conference of the United States.  Since 1975, they've authored the Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary which by its nature contains the chief's reform agenda for the federal courts.  Research found that chiefs added more items to the agenda as their tenures progress, particularly after the ten year mark, likely the product of administrative experience as head than of any sort of political leverage.

As spokesperson and advocate for the judicial branch, they are not immune to public opinion, and will act in the best interest of the court to insure institutional legitimacy.  A study of their papers and correspondence would suggest strategic exercise of their leadership to achieve unanimous decisions is one means to this end.  Chiefs also assign themselves the Court's opinions in big cases.  As Justice Frankfurter wrote, an opinion by the chief justice has "extra weight" with the public because "of the importance of the chief justiceship as a symbol."

Leadership has been the central theme of every study in this book.  Douglas Rice and Christopher Zorn, authors of chapter twelve regarding affective opinion content and influence of the chief justice, write in their conclusion "Danelski's theoretical framework for the study of the group dynamics of the Supreme Court set the stage for all future evaluations of leadership by the chief justice, and it has proven invaluable to subsequent generations of scholars studying the Court."


Submitted by Eric Taylor, Evening Reference Librarian on February 16, 2017

This article appears in the categories: Law Library

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