Journal of the Indiana Academy of the Social Sciences

Document Type



This article examines chief justice leadership of the United States Supreme Court during the judicial decision-making process and develops a model of such leadership in three distinct parts: landscape, structure, and operation. The landscape consists of five interactive stages in the judicial decision-making process: certiorari, oral argument, conference, majority opinion assignment, and opinion drafting. Structurally, three prevailing conditions on the Court create a “democratic default”: life tenure, equal vote, and free voice. In terms of operation, the office employs small-group leadership and its twin pillars of task and social leadership in conjunction with behavioral leadership and its three types of leadership (autocratic, laissez-faire, and democratic). To highlight both small-group and behavioral leadership in action, case studies on Chief Justices Marshall, Stone, and Warren are briefly described. While no one leadership style is exclusively employed, the contours of chief justice leadership are chiefly social and democratic, making these leadership forms dominant. As such, the key finding of this paper is that, in order to successfully lead the court, the chief justice must be just as good a political negotiator as a competent legal judge.