Length of service on the Supreme Court, based on the number of years of continuous service. The chief justice, however, is first in seniority regardless of the length of service.
Seniority on the Supreme Court is an informal arrangement that helps resolve major disputes among justices concerning decision-making procedures. The most important aspect of seniority within the Court concerns the power to assign the main author for the Court’s majority opinion. Historically, if the chief justice votes with the majority position, he or she can write the opinion for the Court or assign a justice to write it. When the chief justice is in the minority, the associate justice with the most seniority who voted with the majority has the power to assign the writing of the opinion. Justices’ power to assign opinions on cases increases with seniority.
Seniority also applies in Court conferences in which the justices discuss cases previously argued. In a practice established under Chief Justice Warren Burger, during conferences, the chief justice is the first to offer a discussion of each case and propose a vote for it. The other justices follow in descending order of seniority. Court members may use seniority and opinion assignment to form voting coalitions. Justices consent to seniority practices and wait to become a senior associate justice to take advantage of them.
Conference of the justices
Review, process of