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Portrait of John Glover Roberts Jr.
Portrait of John Glover Roberts, Jr.
Reproduction courtesy of the Supreme Court Historical Society.
John Glover Roberts, Jr.

b. January 27, 1955, Buffalo, NY

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

The son of an executive with Bethlehem Steel, John Glover Roberts was raised in Long Beach, Indiana, and attended a Catholic boarding school in LaPorte, Indiana, graduating first in his class. He went to Harvard College, graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1976 with a major in history. He then attended Harvard Law School, where he was managing editor of the HARVARD LAW REVIEW. He graduated magna cum laude in 1979 and spent one year clerking for a circuit court judge before being chosen to clerk for Chief Justice William Rehnquist in 1980-1981. He worked for a year at the Department of Justice as a special assistant to the attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, then served as associate counsel to the president from 1982 to 1986.

Roberts left public service in 1986 to enter private practice with a law firm in Washington but accepted an appointment as deputy solicitor general in 1989, when George H. W. Bush became president. He served in that capacity through 1993, during which time he won 25 of the 39 cases he argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of the government. Roberts returned to private practice and was an adjunct faculty member at Georgetown University.

President George W. Bush nominated Roberts to the D.C. Court of Appeals in 2001, but the nomination was one of many that did not make it out of the Democratically controlled Judiciary Committee. In 2003 he was again nominated by President Bush to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and was approved by the Republican-controlled Senate. In 2005 Roberts was nominated to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, who was retiring from the Supreme Court. When Chief Justice Rehnquist died two weeks later, President Bush nominated him as chief justice instead. The Senate confirmed him by a 78-22 vote, a narrow margin given the tradition of bipartisanship in Senate Supreme Court nominations. At age 50, Roberts became the youngest chief justice since John Marshall joined the Court in 1801.

While presidential counsel in the Reagan administration, Roberts is known to have taken a stand for limiting the reach of civil rights legislation. As deputy solicitor general for President George Bush, he wrote a brief arguing that religious ceremonies should be allowed as part of high school graduation programs. His decisions while on the D.C. Court of Appeals seem to indicate that he will vote to limit federal powers over interstate commerce and reduce the rights of those accused of crimes. While none of his opinions to date has clearly articulated a judicial philosophy, his decisions give every indication that he will be a conservative justice. Since joining the Court he has often sided with Scalia and Thomas, the two most conservative justices. Some think that he is a judicial minimalist, approaching cases carefully with an eye to precedent, while judging narrowly so as to preserve the continuity of judicial opinion. Many hope and many fear, however, that he will become an active force to overturn or severely limit rulings of the Supreme Court during its more liberal years.

John Fox, a writer and documentary film producer, was series producer of the Emmy-winning PBS series HERITAGE: CIVILIZATION AND THE JEWS. Editor-in-chief of the award-winning HERITAGE DVD-ROM, he supervised the creation of its 540-map interactive atlas of world history. He is currently writing a book about the growth of communal intelligence over the centuries.

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