John Roberts

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John G. Roberts
Official roberts CJ.jpg
Current Court Information:
Supreme Court of the United States
Title:   Chief Justice
Position:   Seat #1
Appointed by:   George W. Bush
Approval vote:   78-22
Active:   9/29/2005-Present
Chief:   9/29/2005-Present
Preceded by:   William Rehnquist
Past post:   District of Columbia Court of Appeals
Past term:   2003-2005
Personal History
Born:   January 27, 1955
Hometown:   Buffalo, NY
Undergraduate:   Harvard, A.B., 1976
Law School:   Harvard Law, J.D., 1979

John Glover Roberts, Jr. is the seventeenth and current Chief Justice of the United States. Prior to his nomination and confirmation as a federal judge in 2003, Roberts spent more than twenty years working in Washington, D.C. in the administrations of presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush and in private practice. Roberts was nominated to the District of Columbia Circuit by President George W. Bush in 2003. President George W. Bush nominated him as Chief Justice of the United States, and he took his seat on September 29, 2005.[1]

Judicial philosophy

Generally considered to be a practitioner of judicial restraint, Roberts most often votes with the conservative wing of the Court.

Early life and education

John Glover Roberts, Jr. was born in Buffalo, New York on January 27, 1955.[2] Roberts was raised as and continues to be a practicing Roman Catholic. He attended private schools as a child and graduated from La Lumiere, an all-boys Roman Catholic boarding school in LaPorte, Indiana, as class valedictorian in 1973.[3][4]

Harvard College and Law School

Roberts attended Harvard for both his undergraduate and law degrees. He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard College in 1976 after only three years and his Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1979. At the college, Roberts studied history, wrote his thesis on British Liberalism in the Early 20th Century and graduated summa cum laude.[5] At Harvard Law School, he served as managing editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review and graduated magna cum laude.

Professional career

Law clerk

After law school, Roberts served as a clerk for Judge Henry J. Friendly on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals from 1979 to 1980.

From 1980 to 1981, he clerked for then-Associate Justice William Rehnquist on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Executive branch service

Following his time as a clerk for Rehnquist, Roberts entered into the first of a number of Executive Branch appointments that saw him serve in the administrations of Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

Reagan administration

Roberts served as Special Assistant to U.S. Attorney General, William French Smith from 1981 to 1982. In that role, he advised the Attorney General, wrote speeches and acted as the Attorney General's representative to other officials in the Executive Branch and state and local governments.

From 1982 to 1986, Roberts served as Associate Counsel to President Ronald Reagan's White House Counsel Office under Fred F. Fielding. Fielding served as White House Counsel to presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.[6] Roberts' duties in the White House included reviewing bills submitted to the President by Congress, drafting and reviewing Executive Orders and generally reviewing the full range of presidential activities for legal problems.[7]

George H.W. Bush administration

Roberts served as Principal Deputy Solicitor General, in the United States Department of Justice from 1989 to 1993. As Principal Deputy Solicitor General, Chief Justice Roberts briefed and argued a variety of cases before the United States Supreme Court on behalf of the U.S. government.[7]

Private practice

From 1986 to 1989, Roberts practiced law in Washington, D.C. as an associate at Hogan & Hartson. He made partner in 1988 while building a strong civil litigation practice focused on appellate matters. Roberts would leave the firm in 1989 to serve as Principal Deputy Solicitor General in President George H. W. Bush's administration, but would return in 1993 to lead the firm's appellate practice group.[8]

Roberts argued his first case before the Supreme Court of the United States in 1989. As a court-appointed attorney, he successfully represented his client against the United States government in United States v. Halper, a Double Jeopardy case decided by a unanimous Court.[9]

Roberts would ultimately argue a total of 39 cases before the Supreme Court of the United States, winning 25 of them.

Roberts was also part of the team of lawyers sent to Florida to advise Governor Jeb Bush during the 2000 presidential election recount in that state-- which would ultimately put the governor's brother George W. Bush in the White House.[10]

Judicial career

District of Columbia Court of Appeals

From 2003 until he took his seat on the Supreme Court, Roberts served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. During his two years on the bench, Roberts would author 49 opinions, two of which elicited dissents from other judges, and would author three dissenting opinions.

Nomination and Confirmation

Roberts was first nominated by President George H. W. Bush to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1992. His nomination was never taken up for a vote, and he returned to private practice after President Bush lost the 1992 presidential election to President Bill Clinton.

Roberts was next appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by President George W. Bush in May 2001. Senator Patrick Leahy would chair the Senate Judiciary Committee for the next nineteen months and refused Roberts a confirmation hearing.[11]

Roberts would get his hearing after being renominated by President Bush in January of 2003, after the Republicans regained control of the Senate, and Judge Roberts was confirmed unanimously on May 8, 2003.

Summary of judgeship and legal opinions

Roberts time as an appellate judge generally found his rulings to be consistent with conservative philosophies. Yet, he was considered a highly respected and fair jurist. Of his 49 opinions, only two garnered dissenting opinions. During his tenure, Roberts offered the following rulings on notable cases:

Hedgepeth v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, 386 F3d 1148, in which the court (Roberts filing the Opinion) held that a 12-year-old girl's Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights were not violated by her arrest and juvenile detention for violating a "zero tolerance" law against eating or drinking in a Metrorail station.

This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.

No one is very happy about the events that led to this litigation. A twelve-year-old girl was arrested, searched, and handcuffed. Her shoelaces were removed, and she was transported in the windowless rear compartment of a police vehicle to a juvenile processing center, where she was booked, fingerprinted, and detained until released to her mother some three hours later — all for eating a single french fry in a Metrorail station. The child was frightened, embarrassed, and crying throughout the ordeal. The district court described the policies that led to her arrest as "foolish," and indeed the policies were changed after those responsible endured the sort of publicity reserved for adults who make young girls cry. The question before us, however, is not whether these policies were a bad idea, but whether they violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution. Like the district court, we conclude that they did not, and accordingly we affirm."[12]

Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006), in which the Supreme Court of the United States reversed a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit regarding military tribunals for detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Roberts recused himself as Chief Justice from this case as he had been part of a unanimous decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit which held that enemy combatants could be subjected to military tribunals upon being declared enemy combatants. Roberts and the appellate court held that the War on Terror is not a declared war between two countries who are signatories of the Geneva Conventions nor the Uniform Code of Military Justice.[13]

Rancho Viejo, LLC v. Norton, 323 F3d 1062, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Roberts dissenting) refused to hear an appeal on behalf of a developer whose housing project was halted through the Endangered Species Act. Roberts dissent became a source of controversy during his confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court of the United States when environmental groups brought attention to his dissenting opinion, which interestingly does not constitute precedent and therefore had no legal standing. Roberts famously claimed:

This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.

The panel's approach in this case leads to the result that regulating the taking of a hapless toad that, for reasons of its own, lives its entire life in California constitutes regulating "Commerce ... among the several States." U.S. CONST. art. I, § 8, cl. 3." in his dissent.[14]

U.S. Supreme Court

Nomination and confirmation

On July 19, 2005, President Bush nominated Roberts to the Supreme Court to fill a vacancy that would be left by the announced retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Roberts was the first Supreme Court nominee since Stephen Breyer in 1994.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist died on September 3, 2005, while Roberts' confirmation was still pending before the Senate. Shortly thereafter, on September 6, Bush withdrew Roberts's nomination as O'Connor's successor and announced Roberts' new nomination to the position of Chief Justice. Bush asked the Senate to expedite Roberts' confirmation hearings in order to fill the vacancy by the beginning of the Supreme Court's session in early October.

On September 22, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Roberts' nomination by a vote of 13-5, with Senators Ted Kennedy, Richard Durbin, Charles Schumer, Joe Biden and Dianne Feinstein casting the dissenting votes. Roberts was confirmed by the full Senate on September 29, passing by a margin of 78-22.

Oath of office

Chief Justice Roberts took the Constitutional and Judicial Oaths of Office on September 29, 2005. They were administered by Associate Justice John Paul Stevens.[15]

Notable rulings

Affordable Care Act

In June 2012, Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, better known as the challenge to "Obamacare." Challengers to the law argued that the federal government's power under the Commerce Clause was not valid to make individuals purchase a good or service, in this case, healthcare. Roberts agreed with that interpretation, but surprised many observers by allowing the law to stand on the basis of Congress' authority to levy a tax.[16]

For a thorough explanation of the federal healthcare act and the challenges it faced in court, see: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in the courts.


When the ruling was announced, "conservatives were stunned," according to blog[17] In the ensuing criticism of the law, Republican Senator Rand Paul introduced a constitutional amendment which would mandate that every piece of legislation passed by Congress applies to every U.S. citizen and members of the House and Senate. In a statement about the legislation, Paul said:

This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.

My amendment says basically that everybody including Justice Roberts — who seems to be such a fan of Obamacare — gets it too. See, right now, Justice Roberts is still continuing to have federal employee health insurance subsidized by the taxpayer. And if he likes Obamacare so much, I’m going to give him an amendment that gives Obamacare to Justice Roberts.[18]

Parents v. Seattle School District

In June 2007, Chief Justice Roberts authored the plurality opinion in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1.

At issue was whether it was constitutionally permissible for a public school district, and particularly those that had not operated segregated schools in the past, to (1) classify students by race and (2) rely upon such racial classifications in making school assignments.

The school districts involved voluntarily adopted student assignment plans that relied upon race to determine which public schools certain children may attend. The Seattle school district classified children as white or nonwhite, and the Jefferson County (Louisville, KY) school district as black or “other.” In Seattle, this racial classification was used to allocate slots in oversubscribed high schools. In Jefferson County, it was used to make certain elementary school assignments and to rule on transfer requests. In each case, the school districts relied upon an individual student's race in assigning that student to a particular school, so that the racial balance at the school fell within a predetermined range based on the racial composition of the school district as a whole. Parents of students denied assignment to particular schools under these plans solely because of their race brought suit, contending that allocating children to different public schools on the basis of race violated the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection.

Majority opinion

In writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts made a statement that would be quoted in articles about affirmative action for years:

This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.

The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.[19]

See also

External links


Federal judicial offices
Preceded by:
James Buckley
DC Circuit Court of Appeals
Succeeded by:
Preceded by:
William Rehnquist
Supreme Court
Seat #1
Succeeded by: