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In the old English legal system, a chancellor is a judge who sit in a chancery court—an equity court. In equity courts, the chancellor has the power to order acts rather than damages. As a result, injunctions, specific performance and vacatur are remedies available in equity. In the United States, some states created chancery courts to deal only with equitable relief. While chancery courts were formerly separated from other courts, this distinction has been abolished in most states. Today, courts have the power to fashion both legal and equitable remedies.  

The federal government established one chancellor office: the Chancellor of the Smithsonian Institution held by the Chief Justice of the United States. The Smithsonian Institution is a group of museums administered by the Government. As the Chancellor of the Smithsonian, the Chief Justice holds a ceremonial office similar to one of a university’s chancellor.

Chancellor also refers to governmental positions. For example, in Germany, the chancellor is the head of the government.

[Last updated in May of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]