Speaker gives insight into Chief Justice Roberts' responsibilities

Photo courtesy of UM Law

By Lori Atherton
U-M Law

What does Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. do when he’s not presiding over oral arguments? Jeffrey P. Minear, a 1982 alumnus of U-M Law School and counselor to the chief justice of the United States, explained the chief justice’s lesser-known responsibilities as head of the third branch of government during a recent talk at the Law School.

The chief justice presides over the Judicial Conference of the United States, which entails leadership for the nationwide federal judiciary and its 33,000 employees; oversees internal management of the U.S. Supreme Court, which has 489 staff members and a budget of $76.7 million; and serves as chancellor of the Smithsonian Institution, in addition to other duties as assigned by law or custom, Minear said. Assisting the chief justice with these non-case responsibilities are the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the director of the Federal Judicial Center, and Minear, in his role as counselor to the chief justice.

“I make sure the support work of the Court is well organized, and that we are all advancing the chief justice’s agenda,” said Minear, who likens his job to that of a COO or chief of staff.

When Minear became counselor to the chief justice in 2006, he was no stranger to the high court, having argued 56 cases before it while serving as senior litigation counsel in the Solicitor General’s Office from 1985 to 1998. As counselor to the chief justice, Minear oversees the Court’s public information, curator’s, legal, and IT offices, and serves as the executive director of the Supreme Court Fellows program.

The Supreme Court reviews more than 7,000 cases each year, but it only accepts about 75 cases, which predominately involve questions of civil law, Minear said. In addition to hearing oral arguments, the chief justice supervises the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the administrative agency of the federal court system; chairs the board of the Federal Judicial Center, the research and education arm of the judicial branch; and appoints judges to specific offices, including the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.

The chief justice regularly devotes time to conversations with counterparts in other countries, meeting with foreign judicial officers at the request of the State Department or as part of a handful of recurring international dialogues. This past year, for example, Chief Justice Roberts and his colleagues welcomed official delegations of members of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

The chief justice also administers the presidential oath of office, Minear noted, “although it’s by tradition and only by tradition, that the chief justice administers the oath. But it’s a tradition that has been followed consistently since the time of John Marshall.” The chief justice often administers the oath for new Supreme Court justices, as he did when Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch was sworn in last April.

During his talk, Minear noted that Chief Justice Roberts visited the Law School in 2009 to break ground for the South Hall academic building.