Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



The office of Chief Justice carries scant inherent powers. The Chief Justice manages the docket, presents the cases in conference, and guides the discussion. When in the majority, he assigns the writing of opinions. Whatever influence he exerts in the exercise of these prerogatives rests less on formal authority than on elusive personal characteristics. Charles Evans Hughes, who had served as Associate Justice from 1910 to 1916 and later had been able to observe Taft's role in the Court over a period of seven years, considered the Chief Justice "the most important judicial officer in the world." His actual power, Hughes wrote in 1928, depended upon "the strength of his character and the demonstration of his ability in the intimate relations of the judges." The office affords "special opportunity for leadership."'Certain Chief Justices, notably Harlan Fiske Stone, have held the office in low esteem. Disparaging its duties as janitorial, as "never enlarging the occupant's individual capacity for judicial work," he complained that the office "absorbs time and energies I should like to devote to what I consider more important things." Not so with William Howard Taft. At the time of his appointment, it was confidently predicted that certain personal qualifications alone would make him an effective leader.