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Court Officers and Staff: Counselor to the Chief Justice

In 1946, Chief Justice Fred Vinson hired an administrative assistant, without statutory authorization for the position. His immediate successors did not continue the practice, relying instead on the clerk of the Supreme Court and on senior staff within the Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AO) (which was located in the Supreme Court building until the late 1960s).

Chief Justice Warren Burger, appointed in 1969, soon felt the need for “a high level administrative deputy or assistant,” remarking on the heavy burden of his nonjudicial administrative work. In 1971, the Judicial Conference of the United States (JCUS) asked Congress to authorize and fund such a position. As the head of the judicial branch, the JCUS pointed out, the Chief Justice had many administrative duties, including communicating with the chief judges of each judicial circuit and district, chairing the board of the Federal Judicial Center, and presiding over the JCUS, the last of which required frequent contact with JCUS committees as well as the AO. In addition to the aforementioned intrabranch duties, the Chief served as chair of the board for the National Gallery of Art and chancellor of the Smithsonian Institution.

In 1972, Congress passed a statute (86 Stat. 46) providng for an Administrative Assistant to the Chief Justice. Congress changed the title of the position to Counselor in 2008. In contrast to the Court's clerk, marshal, reporter, and librarian—each of whom is appointed by, subject to removal by, and has their compensation fixed by the Court as a whole—the Chief Justice appoints, may remove, and fixes the salary of the Counselor. While Congress assigned specific duties to the other positions, it provided that the Counselor would perform duties assigned by the Chief Justice. 

In addition to assisting the Chief Justice with the statutory responsibilities attendant upon the head of the judicial branch, the Counselor serves as the Chief Justice's chief of staff and aids the Chief in the overall management of the Court, provides research in support of the Chief's public addresses and statements, and monitors developments in the field of judicial administration and court reform. The Counselor also acts as a liaison to the executive and legislative branches and represents the Chief Justice in relations with judicial organizations, foreign courts, and visiting dignitaries.