Roberts, John G., Jr.


Roberts, John G., Jr.
▪ 2006

      On Sept. 29, 2005, John G. Roberts, Jr., was confirmed by the Senate 78–22 and took the oath of office as the 17th chief justice of the United States. Pres. George W. Bush had originally nominated him on July 19 to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was retiring from her seat on the Supreme Court. On September 5, however, two days after Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died and just before confirmation hearings were to begin, the president named him to replace Rehnquist. Although conservative, Roberts did not emerge as an ideologue, but his refusal during the hearings to reveal his personal views or positions on questions likely to come before the court made some on both the right and the left uneasy. Nonetheless, his broad understanding of constitutional law and his thoughtful approach won him relatively easy confirmation.

      John Glover Roberts was born on Jan. 27, 1955, in Buffalo, N.Y., and raised in Long Beach, Ind. In 1976 he received a B.A. degree from Harvard University—having graduated in three years—and in 1979 he was awarded a J.D. degree from Harvard Law School. Although he spent two periods, 1986–89 and 1993–2003, with a law firm in Washington, D.C., primarily handling corporate cases, much of his experience was in government. In 1979–80 he was a clerk for Henry J. Friendly on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, and he often cited the influence of Friendly's approach of giving careful weight to fact, law, and precedent. In 1980–81 he was a clerk for Rehnquist, then an associate justice of the Supreme Court. From 1982 to 1986 he worked in the administration of Pres. Ronald Reagan, first as an assistant to the attorney general and then as associate counsel to the president, and from 1989 to 1993 he was deputy solicitor general in the administration of Pres. George H.W. Bush. During his years in private and government practice, he argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court, winning 25. In 2003 he was appointed to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals.

      Because Roberts had been a judge for only a brief period, he had a short written record. Further, the Bush administration refused to release papers from his years in the Justice Department. Thus, members of the Judiciary Committee questioned him closely on key issues, including a constitutional right to privacy, which underlay Roe v. Wade among other matters, and the scope of the Constitution's commerce clause, on which Congress based many regulatory laws. Frequently using the words modesty and humility, he expressed the view that courts should play only a limited role and not determine social policy. At the same time, he affirmed a broader interpretation of the Constitution than one based solely on the writers' original intent.

Robert Rauch

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▪ United States jurist
in full  John Glover Roberts, Jr. 
born January 27, 1955, Buffalo, New York, U.S.
 
 17th chief justice of the United States (2005– ).

      Roberts was raised in Indiana and received undergraduate (1976) and law (1979) degrees from Harvard University, where he was the managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. From 1980 to 1981 he served as a law clerk to Supreme Court (Supreme Court of the United States) Justice William H. Rehnquist (Rehnquist, William), who later became chief justice. President Ronald Reagan appointed Roberts special assistant to Attorney General William French Smith in 1981, and the following year he became associate counsel to the president. He later worked at the law firm of Hogan & Hartson LLP in Washington, D.C., from 1986 to 1989, when he became deputy solicitor general in the administration of President George H.W. Bush (Bush, George). In 1992 Bush nominated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. His nomination, however, died in the Senate, and the following year he returned to Hogan & Hartson. In his various roles, Roberts argued nearly 40 cases before the Supreme Court, winning 25 of them.

      In 2001 Roberts was reappointed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, this time by President George W. Bush (Bush, George W.), and his bid again stalled. Bush resubmitted his name in 2003, and later that year he was finally confirmed by the Senate. Among Roberts's noted opinions was his dissent in Rancho Viejo v. Norton Gale (2003), in which a real-estate developer had been ordered to remove a fence that threatened an endangered species of toad. The court declined to hear the case, but Roberts questioned whether the Constitution's commerce clause, which ostensibly gave the federal government the authority to enforce such an order, applied. Some legal scholars interpreted Roberts's opinion as a challenge to the Endangered Species Act and other environmental protection laws. Roberts served on the circuit court until 2005, when Bush nominated him to fill the vacancy left on the Supreme Court by the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (O'Connor, Sandra Day), whom he had helped prepare for her confirmation hearings in 1981. Shortly before Roberts's confirmation hearings began, Rehnquist died, prompting Bush to appoint Roberts chief justice. Roberts received bipartisan support, though some senators were troubled by his apparent advocacy of strongly conservative legal viewpoints as counsel in the Reagan and Bush administrations and by his refusal to provide specific answers to questions about his positions on various issues, including civil rights and abortion. The latter issue was a matter of particular concern to those who wondered whether Roberts's judicial decisions would be inappropriately influenced by his strong Roman Catholic faith. Quickly confirmed by the Senate (78–22), he was sworn in on September 29, 2005.

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Universalium. 2010.

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