Origin, title, and appointment to office
The United States Constitution does not explicitly establish an office of chief justice, but presupposes its existence with a single reference in Article I, Section 3, Clause 6: "When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside." Nothing more is said in the Constitution regarding the office. Article III, Section 1, which authorizes the establishment of the Supreme Court, refers to all members of the Court simply as "judges". The Judiciary Act of 1789 created the distinctive titles of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
In 1866, at the urging of Salmon P. Chase, Congress restyled the chief justice's title to the current Chief Justice of the United States. The first person whose Supreme Court commission contained the modified title was Melville Fuller in 1888. The associate justices' title was not altered in 1866, and remains as originally created.
The chief justice, like all federal judges, is nominated by the president and confirmed to office by the U.S. Senate. Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution specifies that they "shall hold their Offices during good Behavior". This language means that the appointments are effectively for life, and that, once in office, justices' tenure ends only when they die, retire, resign, or are removed from office through the impeachment process. Since 1789, 15 presidents have made a total of 22 official nominations to the position.
The salary of the chief justice is set by Congress; the current (2018) annual salary is $267,000, which is slightly higher than that of associate justices, which is $255,300.
The practice of appointing an individual to serve as chief justice is grounded in tradition; while the Constitution mandates that there be a chief justice, it is silent on the subject of how one is chosen and by whom. There is no specific constitutional prohibition against using another method to select the chief justice from among those justices properly appointed and confirmed to the Supreme Court. Constitutional law scholar Todd Pettys has proposed that presidential appointment of chief justices should be done away with, and replaced by a process that permits the justices to select their own chief justice.
Three incumbent associate justices have been nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate as chief justice: Edward Douglass White in 1910, Harlan Fiske Stone in 1941, and William Rehnquist in 1986. A fourth, Abe Fortas, was nominated to the position in 1968, but was not confirmed. As an associate justice does not have to resign his or her seat on the Court in order to be nominated as chief justice, Fortas remained an associate justice. Similarly, when associate justice William Cushing was nominated and confirmed as chief justice in January 1796, but declined the office, he too remained on the Court. Two former associate justices subsequently returned to service on the Court as chief justice. John Rutledge was the first. President Washington gave him a recess appointment in 1795. However, his subsequent nomination to the office was not confirmed by the Senate, and he left office and the Court. In 1930, former associate justice Charles Evans Hughes was confirmed as chief justice. Additionally, in December 1800, former chief justice John Jay was nominated and confirmed to the position a second time, but ultimately declined it, opening the way for the appointment of John Marshall.