We examine career patterns of 257 associate state supreme court justices and the conditions under which some of these justices were elevated to chief justice. We posit that recruitment of chief justice is used to advance judges’ personal policy preferences in some instances, but in other states recruitment of this position is used to appease actors who can punish judges for objectionable decisions. We further hypothesize that chief justice control over opinion assignment shapes the recruitment process and the probability any given justice will become chief justice. Results show that the recruitment process leads associate justices to choose chief justices based on policy goals when this position is afforded the power to control opinion assignment. In these states, the median member of the court has the greatest probability of becoming chief justice. Alternatively, when the chief justice lacks opinion assignment control, institutional goals influence the decisions made by associate justices.