John G. Roberts, Jr.
On September 29, 2005, John G. Roberts, Jr. was confirmed by the United States Senate as the seventeenth Chief Justice of the United States. Hours later he was sworn into office by Justice John Paul Stevens (the longest-serving member of the Court). His swearing-in marked the first addition to the Court in more than 11 years - the longest stretch without a new member since 1823. And at 50 years old, Roberts became the youngest Chief Justice since John Marshall took the bench in 1801 at the age of 45. This combination of factors - the age of the other Justices and Roberts' relative youth - suggests the potential for substantial influence on the Court for many years to come.
Roberts grew up in Long Beach, Indiana, where his father worked as an executive for Bethlehem Steel. In high school, he was captain of the varsity football team and also wrestled, sang in the choir, co-edited the student newspaper, took part in drama productions, and served on the student council Executive Committee. These activities, combined with a strong academic record, earned him a spot at Harvard University, where he majored in history and distinguished himself academically, graduating a year early with highest honors. During the summers he worked at a steel mill back in Indiana to help pay his tuition.
After graduation, Roberts moved on to Harvard Law School, where he worked as managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. Again he distinguished himself academically, graduating with high honors and catching the eye of Judge Henry Friendly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Friendly, one of the most widely respected appellate court judges in the country, hired Roberts as his law clerk. At the end of a year, Roberts moved on to another clerkship, this one to then-Justice William H. Rehnquist of the U.S. Supreme Court (the man whom he eventually replaced as Chief Justice). When he finished his Supreme Court clerkship in 1981, he was hired by the Reagan administration, first as a special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General and then as Associate Counsel to the President.
After a two-year hiatus from government service between 1986-1988, Roberts returned to a Republican administration to take the post of Deputy Solicitor General. In this capacity he argued dozens of cases before the Supreme Court on behalf of the federal government, winning well over half of them. When Democrat Bill Clinton won the 1992 Presidential election, Roberts returned to private practice. He became a partner at Hogan and Hartson, a prestigious Washington, D.C. firm, where he ran the appellate division and continued to argue cases before the Supreme Court.
Roberts worked for Hogan and Hartson for the next decade, earning a yearly salary of more than $1 million. Then, in 2001, President George W. Bush nominated him to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, widely considered the most important intermediate appellate court in the country. Roberts' initial nomination was never voted on by the Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee and was therefore never addressed by the full Senate. In 2003, President Bush renominated Roberts in a Republican-controlled Senate; he was confirmed by a voice vote with little opposition.
During his time on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Roberts wrote 49 opinions. Only two of his decisions were not unanimous, and he only dissented from other judges' opinions three times. According to University of Chicago Law Professor Cass Sunstein, his circuit court opinions suggest that he is a "judicial minimalist," emphasizing respect for precedent rather than a broader, more controversial approach like originalism.
Little more can be discerned about Roberts' judicial outlook from his circuit court decisions or from his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which some Senators and pundits complained was overly evasive. What can be gathered about his likely impact on the Court, however, is the administrative effect he is likely to have. Both during his testimony and in comments made before his nomination, Roberts suggested that he would like to see the Court reverse the trend of decreasing its docket size. While Roberts will have no more actual say in deciding to hear cases than any of the other justices - four justices have to agree to hear a case before it is placed on the Court's docket - he will nevertheless be able to exert strong influence on other justices from his position as Chief Justice. While this change would not be particularly glamorous or get much media attention, it could lead to a significant strengthening of the Supreme Court's role in interpreting and applying some of the more mundane aspects of American law. In the end, it may help to reshape the Court in Chief Justice Roberts' image: deliberate and well-reasoned, with less emphasis on hot-button issues than the general public has come to expect.
|Clerk||Law School||Terms Clerked|
|James McDonald||Virginia (2007)||2009|
|Paul Crane||Virginia (2007)||2010|
|Daniel P. Kearney, Jr.||Yale (2004)||2005|
|Erin Morrow||Yale (2005)||2007|
|Joshua Hawley||Yale (2006)||2007|
|William Baude||Yale (2007)||2008|
|Stephen Sachs||Yale (2007)||2009|
|Roman Martinez||Yale (2008)||2009|
|Kate Heinzelman||Yale (2009)||2010|
|Zac Hudson||Yale (2009)||2010|