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Chief Justice John Roberts

The Understudy

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"[T]he chief justice has a particular obligation to try to achieve consensus ... and that would certainly be a priority for me."
Chief Justice John Roberts

Chief Justice John Roberts

Image Courtesy of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals
The young chief justice hasn't made his mark on the U.S. Supreme Court yet, but his history suggests that he is a natural centrist with a strong respect for precedent and legal tradition.

Vital Statistics


51 years old. Graduate of Harvard University (summa cum laude, 1976) and Harvard Law School (magna cum laude, 1979), where he served as managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. Lifelong Roman Catholic. Married to attorney Jane Sullivan Roberts, with two young adopted children.

Career Background


1979-1980: Clerked for Justice Henry Friendly of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. Friendly, an aging, widely-respected justice who received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Jimmy Carter in 1977, had served on the circuit court since 1959.

1980-1981: Clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist. Rehnquist would become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1986.

1981-1982: Special Assistant to U.S. Attorney General William F. Smith under the Reagan administration.

1982-1986: Associate counsel to President Ronald Reagan.

1986-1989: Associate counsel at Hogan & Hartson, the largest law firm in Washington, D.C.

1989-1993: Principal Deputy Solicitor General for the U.S. Department of Justice under the first Bush administration.

1992: Nominated to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals by George Bush, but his nomination never received a Senate vote and was ultimately lost in the shuffle following Bill Clinton's victory over Bush in the 1992 presidential election.

1993-2003: Head of the appellate practice division at Hogan & Hartson.

2001: Nominated for a second time to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, but the nomination died in committee before receiving a Senate vote.

2003-2005: Associate Justice for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals after being nominated for a third time in 2003.

Nomination and Approval


In July 2005, President George W. Bush nominated Roberts to replace retiring Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. But that September, before Roberts' name could be brought to the Senate for approval, Chief Justice William Rehnquist passed away. Bush withdrew Roberts' name for consideration as a replacement for O'Connor and nominated him to replace Rehnquist instead. Roberts was approved by the Senate later that month by a 78-22 margin, receiving enthusiastic support from many prominent civil libertarians such as Sens. Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
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