John Roberts

John Glover Roberts Jr. (born January 27, 1955) is an American lawyer and jurist who serves as Chief Justice of the United States. Roberts has authored the majority opinion in several landmark cases, including Shelby County v. Holder, National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, King v. Burwell, and Department of Commerce v. New York. He has been described as having a conservative judicial philosophy in his jurisprudence, but has shown a willingness to work with the Supreme Court's liberal bloc, and since the retirement of Anthony Kennedy in 2018 has come to be regarded as a key swing vote on the Court.[3][4][5]

John Roberts
17th Chief Justice of the United States
Assumed office
September 29, 2005
Nominated byGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byWilliam Rehnquist
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
In office
June 2, 2003  September 29, 2005
Nominated byGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byJames L. Buckley
Succeeded byPatricia Ann Millett
Principal Deputy Solicitor General of the United States
In office
October 1989  January 1993
PresidentGeorge H. W. Bush
Preceded byDonald B. Ayer
Succeeded byPaul Bender
Associate Counsel to the President
In office
November 28, 1982  April 11, 1986
PresidentRonald Reagan
Preceded byJ. Michael Luttig[1]
Succeeded byRobert M. Kruger[2]
Personal details
John Glover Roberts Jr.

(1955-01-27) January 27, 1955
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
Jane Sullivan (m. 1996)
EducationHarvard University (AB, JD)

Roberts was born in Buffalo, New York, but grew up in northwestern Indiana and was educated in Catholic schools. He studied history at Harvard University, then attended the Harvard Law School, where he became the managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. He served as a law clerk for Circuit Judge Henry Friendly and then-associate justice William Rehnquist before taking a position in the Attorney General's office during the Reagan Administration. He went on to serve the Reagan administration and the George H. W. Bush administration in the Department of Justice and the Office of the White House Counsel, before spending 14 years in private law practice. During this time, he argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court.[6] Notably, he represented 19 states in United States v. Microsoft Corp.[7]

In 2003, Roberts was appointed as a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by George W. Bush. During his two-year tenure on the D.C. Circuit, Roberts authored 49 opinions, eliciting two dissents from other judges, and authoring three dissents of his own.[8] In 2005, Roberts was nominated to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court, initially to succeed the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor. When Rehnquist died before Roberts's confirmation hearings began, Bush instead nominated Roberts to fill the chief justice position.

Early life and education

John Glover Roberts, Jr. was born on January 27, 1955, in Buffalo, New York, the son of Rosemary (née Podrasky; b. 1929) and John Glover "Jack" Roberts Sr. (1928–2008). His father had Irish and Welsh ancestry and his mother is of Slovak descent.[9][10] He has an elder sister, Kathy, and two younger sisters, Peggy and Barbara.[11] Roberts spent his early childhood years in Hamburg, New York, where his father worked as an electrical engineer for the Bethlehem Steel Corporation at its large factory in Lackawanna.[12] In 1965, when Roberts was ten years old, his family moved to Long Beach, Indiana, so his father could take a job as the plant manager for a new Bethlehem Steel plant in nearby Burns Harbor.[13]

From an early age, Roberts "stood out as the smartest kid in class."[13] He first attended Notre Dame Elementary School, then attended La Lumiere School, a small but affluent and academically rigorous Roman Catholic boarding school in La Porte, Indiana, where he was a student and athlete.[13][14] He studied five years of Latin in four years of study, necessitating the Latin teacher's creation of a one-on-one advanced curriculum for him,[15] and was known generally for his devotion to his studies.[13] One classmate recalled finding Roberts studying at both 8:00 am and 8:00 pm, and that he "would be physically exhausted at the end of each evening from studying."[16] He was captain of his school's football teamhe later described himself as a "slow-footed linebacker"and was a regional champion in wrestling. He participated in choir and drama, co-edited the school newspaper, and served on the athletic council and the executive committee of the student council.[13] Roberts graduated first in his class from La Lumiere in 1973.[13]

After graduating from La Lumiere in 1973, Roberts became the first student in the school's history to be admitted to Harvard University.[15] Due to his academic excellence in high school, Roberts entered Harvard with sophomore (second-year) standing.[17] He majored in history, and one of his first papers, "Marxism and Bolshevism: Theory and Practice", won Harvard's William Scott Ferguson Prize for most outstanding essay by a sophomore history major.[17] Roberts spent three years as an undergraduate at Harvard, returning to Indiana each summer to earn money working on the floor of the steel plant his father managed.[13] In his senior year, his paper "The Utopian Conservative: A Study of Continuity and Change in the Thought of Daniel Webster" won Harvard's 1976 Bowdoin Prize for the "English Language" category.[18] He graduated from Harvard in 1976 with an A.B. summa cum laude and membership in Phi Beta Kappa,[19] having written a senior honors thesis entitled "Old and New Liberalism: The British Liberal Party's Approach to the Social Problem, 19061914".[17]

Roberts had originally planned to pursue a Ph.D. in history and become a professor, but decided to attend law school instead.[13] He remained at Harvard and attended the Harvard Law School, where he was a member of the Harvard Law Review and served as its managing editor during his third year. He graduated in 1979 with a J.D. magna cum laude.[13][17]

After graduating from law school, Roberts first clerked for Judge Henry Friendly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1979 to 1980, then clerked for Justice (later Chief Justice in 1986) William Rehnquist of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1980 to 1981.[13] After his clerkships, Roberts began working for the U.S. government in the administration of President Ronald Reagan, first from 1981 to 1982 as a special assistant to William French Smith, the U.S. Attorney General, then from 1982 to 1986 as an associate with the White House Counsel.[13]

In 1986, Roberts entered private law practice in Washington, D.C., as an associate at the law firm Hogan & Hartson (now Hogan Lovells) and worked in the field of corporate law.[20] As part of Hogan & Hartson's pro bono practice, he worked behind the scenes for gay rights advocates, reviewing filings and preparing arguments for the 1996 Supreme Court case Romer v. Evans, which was described in 2005 as "the movement's most important legal victory". Roberts also argued on behalf of the homeless, a case which became one of Roberts's "few appellate losses."[21] Another pro bono matter was a death penalty case in which he represented John Ferguson, who was convicted of killing eight people in Florida.[22][23]

In 1989, Roberts joined the administration of newly elected president George H. W. Bush as Principal Deputy Solicitor General.[13] He served as the acting solicitor general for the purposes of at least one case when the sitting solicitor general, Ken Starr, had a conflict of interest.[24][25] In 1992, Bush nominated Roberts to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, but no Senate vote was held, and Roberts's nomination expired at the end of the 102nd Congress.[26]

Roberts left the Office of the Solicitor General in 1993 following Bush's defeat by Bill Clinton in the 1992 U.S. presidential election, and returned to Hogan & Hartson as a partner. He became the head of the firm's appellate practice, and also became an adjunct professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center. During this time, Roberts argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court, prevailing in 25 of them.[27] He represented 19 states in United States v. Microsoft.[7] Those cases include:

Case Argued Decided Represented
First Options v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938 March 22, 1995 May 22, 1995 Respondent
Adams v. Robertson, 520 U.S. 83 January 14, 1997 March 3, 1997 Respondent
Alaska v. Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government, 522 U.S. 520 December 10, 1997 February 25, 1999 Petitioner
Feltner v. Columbia Pictures Television, Inc., 523 U.S. 340 January 21, 1998 March 31, 1998 Petitioner
National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Smith, 525 U.S. 459 January 20, 1999 February 23, 1999 Petitioner
Rice v. Cayetano, 528 U.S. 495 October 6, 1999 February 23, 2000 Respondent
Eastern Associated Coal Corp. v. Mine Workers, 531 U.S. 57 October 2, 2000 November 28, 2000 Petitioner
TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Marketing Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23 November 29, 2000 March 20, 2001 Petitioner
Toyota Motor Manufacturing v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184 November 7, 2001 January 8, 2002 Petitioner
Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council, Inc. v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, 535 U.S. 302 January 7, 2002 April 23, 2002 Respondent
Rush Prudential HMO, Inc. v. Moran, 536 U.S. 355 January 16, 2002 June 20, 2002 Petitioner
Gonzaga University v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273 April 24, 2002 June 20, 2002 Petitioner
Barnhart v. Peabody Coal Co., 537 U.S. 149 October 8, 2002 January 15, 2003 Respondent
Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84 November 13, 2002 March 5, 2003 Petitioner

During the late 1990s, while working for Hogan & Hartson, Roberts served as a member of the steering committee of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the conservative Federalist Society.[28]

In 2000, Roberts traveled to Tallahassee, Florida, to advise Jeb Bush, then the governor of Florida, concerning the latter's actions in the Florida election recount during the presidential election.[29]

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judgeship

On May 9, 2001, President George W. Bush nominated Roberts to a seat on the D.C. Circuit to replace Judge James L. Buckley, who had recently retired.[30] However, the Democratic Party had a majority in the Senate at the time and was in conflict with Bush over his judicial nominees. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy refused to give Roberts a hearing in the 107th Congress.[31] The GOP regained control of the Senate on January 7, 2003, and Bush resubmitted Roberts's nomination that day. Roberts was confirmed on May 8, 2003,[32] and received his commission on June 2, 2003.[33] During his two-year tenure on the D.C. Circuit, Roberts authored 49 opinions, eliciting two dissents from other judges, and authoring three dissents of his own.[8]

Notable decisions on the D.C. Circuit include the following:

Fourth and Fifth amendments

Hedgepeth v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, 386 F.3d 1148,[34] involved a 12-year-old girl who was arrested, searched, handcuffed, driven to police headquarters, booked, and fingerprinted after she violated a publicly advertised zero tolerance "no eating" policy in a Washington Metro station by eating a single french fry. She was released to her mother three hours later. She sued, alleging that an adult would have only received a citation for the same offense, while children must be detained until parents are notified. The D.C. Circuit unanimously affirmed the district court's dismissal of the girl's lawsuit, which was predicated on alleged violations of the Fourth Amendment (unreasonable search and seizure) and Fifth Amendment (equal protection).

"No one is very happy about the events that led to this litigation," Roberts wrote, and noted that the policies under which the girl was apprehended had since been changed. Because age discrimination is evaluated using a rational basis test, however, only weak state interests were required to justify the policy, and the panel concluded they were present. "Because parents and guardians play an essential role in that rehabilitative process, it is reasonable for the District to seek to ensure their participation, and the method chosen—detention until the parent is notified and retrieves the child—certainly does that, in a way issuing a citation might not." The court concluded that the policy and detention were constitutional, noting that "the question before us ... is not whether these policies were a bad idea, but whether they violated the Fourth and Fifth amendments to the Constitution," language reminiscent of Justice Potter Stewart's dissent in Griswold v. Connecticut. "We are not asked in this case to say whether we think this law is unwise, or even asinine," Stewart had written; "[w]e are asked to hold that it violates the United States Constitution. And that, I cannot do."

Military tribunals

In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, Roberts was part of a unanimous circuit panel overturning the district court ruling and upholding military tribunals set up by the Bush administration for trying terrorism suspects known as enemy combatants. Circuit judge A. Raymond Randolph, writing for the court, ruled that Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a driver for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden,[35] could be tried by a military court because:

  1. the military commission had the approval of the United States Congress;
  2. the Third Geneva Convention is a treaty between nations and as such it does not confer individual rights and remedies enforceable in U.S. courts;
  3. even if the Convention could be enforced in U.S. courts, it would not be of assistance to Hamdan at the time because, for a conflict such as the war against Al-Qaeda (considered by the court as a separate war from that against Afghanistan itself) that is not between two countries, it guarantees only a certain standard of judicial procedure without speaking to the jurisdiction in which the prisoner must be tried.

The court held open the possibility of judicial review of the results of the military commission after the current proceedings ended.[36] This decision was overturned on June 29, 2006, by the Supreme Court in a 5–3 decision, with Roberts not participating due to his prior participation in the case as a circuit judge.[37]

Environmental regulation

Roberts wrote a dissent in Rancho Viejo, LLC v. Norton, 323 F.3d 1062, a case involving the protection of a rare California toad under the Endangered Species Act. When the court denied a rehearing en banc, 334 F.3d 1158 (D.C. Cir. 2003), Roberts dissented, arguing that the panel opinion was inconsistent with United States v. Lopez and United States v. Morrison in that it incorrectly focused on whether the regulation substantially affects interstate commerce rather than on whether the regulated activity does. In Roberts's view, the Commerce Clause of the Constitution did not permit the government to regulate activity affecting what he called "a hapless toad" that "for reasons of its own, lives its entire life in California." He said that reviewing the panel decision would allow the court "alternative grounds for sustaining application of the Act that may be more consistent with Supreme Court precedent."[38]

Appointment to the Supreme Court

On July 19, 2005, President Bush nominated Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court to fill a vacancy that would be created by the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Roberts was the first Supreme Court nominee since Stephen Breyer in 1994. Bush announced Roberts's nomination in a live, nationwide television broadcast from the East Room of the White House at 9 p.m. Eastern Time.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died on September 3, 2005, while Roberts's confirmation was still pending before the Senate. Shortly thereafter, on September 5, Bush withdrew Roberts's nomination as O'Connor's successor and announced Roberts's new nomination to the position of Chief Justice.[39] Bush asked the Senate to expedite Roberts's confirmation hearings to fill the vacancy by the beginning of the Supreme Court's session in early October.

Roberts's testimony on his jurisprudence

During his confirmation hearings, Roberts said that he did not have a comprehensive jurisprudential philosophy, and he did "not think beginning with an all-encompassing approach to constitutional interpretation is the best way to faithfully construe the document."[40][41] Roberts analogized judges to baseball umpires: "[I]t's my job to call balls and strikes, and not to pitch or bat."[42] Roberts demonstrated an encyclopedic knowledge of Supreme Court precedent, which he discussed without notes. Among the issues he discussed were:

Commerce Clause

In Senate hearings, Roberts has stated:

Starting with McCulloch v. Maryland, Chief Justice John Marshall gave a very broad and expansive reading to the powers of the Federal Government and explained generally that if the ends be legitimate, then any means chosen to achieve them are within the power of the Federal Government, and cases interpreting that, throughout the years, have come down. Certainly, by the time Lopez was decided, many of us had learned in law school that it was just sort of a formality to say that interstate commerce was affected and that cases weren't going to be thrown out that way. Lopez certainly breathed new life into the Commerce Clause.

I think it remains to be seen, in subsequent decisions, how rigorous a showing, and in many cases, it is just a showing. It's not a question of an abstract fact, does this affect interstate commerce or not, but has this body, the Congress, demonstrated the impact on interstate commerce that drove them to legislate? That's a very important factor. It wasn't present in Lopez at all. I think the members of Congress had heard the same thing I had heard in law school, that this is unimportant—and they hadn't gone through the process of establishing a record in that case.[41]


Roberts stated the following about federalism in a 1999 radio interview:

We have gotten to the point these days where we think the only way we can show we're serious about a problem is if we pass a federal law, whether it is the Violence Against Women Act or anything else. The fact of the matter is conditions are different in different states, and state laws can be more relevant is I think exactly the right term, more attuned to the different situations in New York, as opposed to Minnesota, and that is what the Federal system is based on.[43]

Reviewing Acts of Congress

At a Senate hearing, Roberts stated:

The Supreme Court has, throughout its history, on many occasions described the deference that is due to legislative judgments. Justice Holmes described assessing the constitutionality of an act of Congress as the gravest duty that the Supreme Court is called upon to perform. ... It's a principle that is easily stated and needs to be observed in practice, as well as in theory.

Now, the Court, of course, has the obligation, and has been recognized since Marbury v. Madison, to assess the constitutionality of acts of Congress, and when those acts are challenged, it is the obligation of the Court to say what the law is. The determination of when deference to legislative policy judgments goes too far and becomes abdication of the judicial responsibility, and when scrutiny of those judgments goes too far on the part of the judges and becomes what I think is properly called judicial activism, that is certainly the central dilemma of having an unelected, as you describe it correctly, undemocratic judiciary in a democratic republic.[41]

Stare decisis

On the subject of stare decisis, referring to Brown v. Board, the decision overturning school segregation, Roberts said that "the Court in that case, of course, overruled a prior decision. I don't think that constitutes judicial activism because obviously if the decision is wrong, it should be overruled. That's not activism. That's applying the law correctly."[44]

Roe v. Wade

While working as a lawyer for the Reagan administration, Roberts wrote legal memos defending administration policies on abortion.[45] At his nomination hearing Roberts testified that the legal memos represented the views of the administration he was representing at the time and not necessarily his own.[46] "Senator, I was a staff lawyer; I didn't have a position," Roberts said.[46] As a lawyer in the George H. W. Bush administration, Roberts signed a legal brief urging the court to overturn Roe v. Wade.[47]

In private meetings with senators before his confirmation, Roberts testified that Roe was settled law, but added that it was subject to the legal principle of stare decisis,[48] meaning that while the Court must give some weight to the precedent, it was not legally bound to uphold it.

In his Senate testimony, Roberts said that, while sitting on the Appellate Court, he had an obligation to respect precedents established by the Supreme Court, including the right to an abortion. He stated: "Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land. ... There is nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent, as well as Casey." Following the traditional reluctance of nominees to indicate which way they might vote on an issue likely to come before the Supreme Court, he did not explicitly say whether he would vote to overturn either,[40] however Jeffrey Rosen adds "I wouldn’t bet on Chief Justice Roberts’s siding unequivocally with the anti-Roe forces."[49]


On September 22, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Roberts's 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 by a margin of 78–22.[50] All Republicans and the one Independent voted for Roberts; the Democrats split evenly, 22–22. Roberts was confirmed by what was, historically, a narrow margin for a Supreme Court justice. However, all subsequent confirmation votes have been even narrower.[51][52][53][54]

On the U.S. Supreme Court

Roberts took the Constitutional oath of office, administered by Associate Justice John Paul Stevens at the White House, on September 29, 2005. On October 3, he took the judicial oath provided for by the Judiciary Act of 1789 at the United States Supreme Court building, prior to the first oral arguments of the 2005 term.

Justice Antonin Scalia said that Roberts "pretty much run[s] the show the same way" as Rehnquist, albeit "let[ting] people go on a little longer at conference ... but [he'll] get over that."[55] Roberts has been portrayed as a consistent advocate for conservative principles by analysts such as Jeffrey Toobin.[56] Garrett Epps has described Roberts's prose as "crystalline, vivid, and often humorous".[57]

Seventh Circuit judge Diane Sykes, surveying Roberts's first term on the court, concluded that his jurisprudence "appears to be strongly rooted in the discipline of traditional legal method, evincing a fidelity to text, structure, history, and the constitutional hierarchy. He exhibits the restraint that flows from the careful application of established decisional rules and the practice of reasoning from the case law. He appears to place great stock in the process-oriented tools and doctrinal rules that guard against the aggregation of judicial power and keep judicial discretion in check: jurisdictional limits, structural federalism, textualism, and the procedural rules that govern the scope of judicial review."[58] Roberts has been said to operate under an approach of judicial minimalism in his decisions,[59] having stated, "[i]f it is not necessary to decide more to a case, then in my view it is necessary not to decide more to a case."[60] His decision making and leadership demonstrates an intent to preserve the Court's power and legitimacy while dually maintaining judicial independence.[61] Chief Justice Roberts was ranked 50th in the 2016 Forbes ranking of "The World's Most Powerful People."[62]

Circuit assignment

Roberts is assigned to the following circuits of the US federal courts system: the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the Fourth Circuit (including Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Virginia, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.[63] Circuit justices are principally responsible for responding to emergency requests (for example, applications for emergency stays of executions). Prior to confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, Roberts was assigned to cover the Ninth Circuit, but he relinquished these responsibilities during the October 2018 term[64]

Early decisions

On January 17, 2006, Roberts dissented along with Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in Gonzales v. Oregon, which held that the Controlled Substances Act does not allow the United States attorney general to prohibit physicians from prescribing drugs for the assisted suicide of the terminally ill as permitted by an Oregon law. The point of contention in the case was largely one of statutory interpretation, not federalism.

On March 6, 2006, Roberts wrote the unanimous decision in Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights that colleges accepting federal money must allow military recruiters on campus, despite university objections to the Clinton administration-initiated "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Campaign finance

Following his concurrence in Citizens United (2010), Roberts wrote the majority decision for another landmark campaign finance case called McCutcheon v. FEC (2014). In McCutcheon the court ruled that "aggregate limits" on the combined amount a donor could give to various federal candidates or party committees violated the First Amendment.[57][65]

Fourth Amendment

Roberts wrote his first dissent in Georgia v. Randolph (2006). The majority's decision prohibited police from searching a home if both occupants are present but one objected and the other consented. Roberts criticized the majority opinion as inconsistent with prior case law and for partly basing its reasoning on its perception of social custom. He said the social expectation test was flawed because the Fourth Amendment protects a legitimate expectation of privacy, not social expectations.[66]

In Utah v. Strieff (2016), Roberts joined the majority in ruling (5–3) that a person with an outstanding warrant may be arrested and searched, and that any evidence discovered based on that search is admissible in court; the majority opinion held that this remains true even when police act unlawfully by stopping a person without reasonable suspicion, before learning of the existence of the outstanding warrant.[67]

In Carpenter v. United States, a landmark decision involving privacy of cellular phone data, Roberts wrote the majority opinion in a 5–4 ruling that searches of cellular phone data generally require a warrant.[68]

Notice and opportunity to be heard

Although Roberts has often sided with Scalia and Thomas, he also provided a crucial vote against their mutual position in Jones v. Flowers, siding with liberal justices of the court in ruling that, before a home is seized and sold in a tax-forfeiture sale, due diligence must be demonstrated and proper notification needs to be sent to the owners. Dissenting justices were Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, while Roberts's opinion was joined by David Souter, Stephen Breyer, John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Samuel Alito did not participate.

Abortion and reproductive health care

On the Supreme Court, Roberts has indicated he supports some abortion restrictions. In Gonzales v. Carhart (2007), he voted with the majority to uphold the constitutionality of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a five-justice majority, distinguished Stenberg v. Carhart, and concluded that the court's previous decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey did not prevent Congress from banning the procedure. The decision left the door open for future as-applied challenges, and did not address the broader question of whether Congress had the authority to pass the law.[69] Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion, contending that the Court's prior decisions in Roe v. Wade and Casey should be reversed; Roberts declined to join that opinion.

In December 2018, justices Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh joined the court's four liberal justices in a denial for writ of certiorari, declining to hear a case brought by the states of Louisiana and Kansas to deny Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood.[70] Because the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, the lower court rulings in favor of Planned Parenthood still stand.[71] In February 2019, Roberts sided with the court's liberal wing, in a 5–4 decision, granting a stay to temporarily block a Louisiana abortion restriction.[72] The Louisiana law required that doctors performing abortions possess admitting privileges at a hospital near the facility providing the abortion, and the stay blocks that law pending review in the legal process.[73][74]

Capital punishment

On November 4, 2016, Roberts was the deciding vote in a 5–3 decision to stay an execution.[75] On February 7, 2019, Roberts was part of the majority in a 5–4 decision rejecting a Muslim inmate's request to delay execution in order to have an imam present with him during the execution.[76] Also in February, 2019, Roberts sided with Justice Kavanaugh and the court's four liberal justices in a 6–3 decision to block the execution of a man with an "intellectual disability" in Texas.[77][78]

Equal Protection Clause

Roberts opposes the use of race in assigning students to particular schools, including for purposes such as maintaining integrated schools.[79] He sees such plans as discrimination in violation of the constitution's Equal Protection Clause and Brown v. Board of Education.[79][80] In Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, the court considered two voluntarily adopted school district plans that relied on race to determine which schools certain children may attend. The court had held in Brown that "racial discrimination in public education is unconstitutional,"[81] and later, that "racial classifications, imposed by whatever federal, state, or local governmental actor, ... are constitutional only if they are narrowly tailored measures that further compelling governmental interests,"[82] and that this "[n]arrow tailoring ... require[s] serious, good faith consideration of workable race-neutral alternatives."[83] Roberts cited these cases in writing for the Parents Involved majority, concluding that the school districts had "failed to show that they considered methods other than explicit racial classifications to achieve their stated goals."[84] In a section of the opinion joined by four other Justices, Roberts added that "[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

Free speech

Roberts authored the 2007 student free speech case Morse v. Frederick, ruling that a student in a public school-sponsored activity does not have the right to advocate drug use on the basis that the right to free speech does not invariably prevent the exercise of school discipline.[85]

On April 20, 2010, in United States v. Stevens, the Supreme Court struck down an animal cruelty law. Roberts, writing for an 8–1 majority, found that a federal statute criminalizing the commercial production, sale, or possession of depictions of cruelty to animals, was an unconstitutional abridgment of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The Court held that the statute was substantially overbroad; for example, it could allow prosecutions for selling photos of out-of-season hunting.[86]

Health care reform

On June 28, 2012, Roberts delivered the majority opinion in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, which upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act by a 5–4 vote. The Court indicated that although the "individual mandate" component of the Act could not be upheld under the Commerce Clause, the mandate could be construed as a tax and was therefore ruled to be valid under Congress's authority to "lay and collect taxes."[87][88] The Court overturned a portion of the law related to the withholding of funds from states that did not comply with the expansion of Medicaid; Roberts wrote that "Congress is not free ... to penalize states that choose not to participate in that new program by taking away their existing Medicaid funding."[88] Sources within the Supreme Court state that Roberts switched his vote regarding the individual mandate sometime after an initial vote[89][90] and that Roberts largely wrote both the majority and minority opinions.[91] This extremely unusual circumstance has also been used to explain why the minority opinion was also unsigned, itself a rare phenomenon from the Supreme Court.[91]

Comparison to other Court members

Roberts has been compared and contrasted to other court members by commentators.[92][49][93] Although Roberts is identified as having a conservative judicial philosophy, his vote in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) caused the press to contrast him with the Rehnquist court. Roberts is seen as having a more moderate conservative orientation, particularly when Bush v. Gore is compared to Roberts's vote for the ACA.[94] Roberts's judicial philosophy is seen as more moderate and conciliatory than Antonin Scalia's and Clarence Thomas'.[92][93][94] He wishes more consensus from the Court.[92] Roberts's voting pattern is most closely aligned to Samuel Alito's.[95]

LGBT rights

In 2013, Roberts wrote the 5-4 majority opinion that the appellants seeking to uphold Proposition 8 in California, which was ruled unconstitutional by lower courts, did not have standing and the lower courts' rulings were allowed to stand and same-sex marriages resumed in California.[96] Roberts dissented in United States v. Windsor in which the 5-4 majority ruled that key parts of the Defense of Marriage Act were unconstitutional.[97] The case allowed the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages performed in jurisdictions where legal. He dissented in the Obergefell v. Hodges case in which Kennedy wrote for the majority, again 5-4, that same-sex couples had a right to marry.[98] In Pavan v. Smith, the Supreme Court "summarily overruled" the Arkansas Supreme Court's decision that the state did not have to list same-sex spouses on birth certificates thus siding with same-sex couples who filed the lawsuit; Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch dissented but Roberts did not join their dissent leaving open speculation that he might have ruled with the majority.[99]

Non-judicial duties of the chief justice

As the chief justice, Roberts also serves in a variety of non-judicial roles, including chancellor of the Smithsonian Institution and leading the Judicial Conference of the United States. Perhaps the best known of these is the custom of the chief justice administering the oath of office at presidential inaugurations. Roberts debuted in this capacity at the inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20, 2009. (As a senator, Obama had voted against Roberts's confirmation to the Supreme Court, making the event doubly a first: the first time a president was sworn in by someone whose confirmation he opposed.[100]) Things did not go smoothly. According to columnist Jeffrey Toobin:

Through intermediaries, Roberts and Obama had agreed how to divide the thirty-five-word oath for the swearing in. Obama was first supposed to repeat the clause "I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear." But, when Obama heard Roberts begin to speak, he interrupted Roberts before he said "do solemnly swear." This apparently flustered the Chief Justice, who then made a mistake in the next line, inserting the word "faithfully" out of order. Obama smiled, apparently recognizing the error, then tried to follow along. Roberts then garbled another word in the next passage, before correctly reciting, "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."[101]

Part of the difficulty was that Roberts did not have the text of the oath with him but relied on his memory. On later occasions when Roberts has administered an oath, he has taken the text with him.

The Associated Press reported that "[l]ater, as the two men shook hands in the Capitol, Roberts appeared to say the mistake was his fault."[102] The following evening in the White House Map Room with reporters present, Roberts and Obama repeated the oath correctly. This was, according to the White House, done out of "an abundance of caution" to ensure that the constitutional requirement had been met.

Critique of President Trump

In November 2018, the Associated Press approached Roberts for comment after President Donald Trump described a jurist who ruled against his asylum policy as an "Obama judge". In response, Roberts asserted that "We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them." Robert's remarks were widely interpreted as a rebuke of President Trump's comments.[103][104][105]

Personal life

Roberts and his wife, Jane Sullivan, have been married since 1996.[13] Sullivan is a lawyer who became a prominent legal recruiter at the firms of Major, Lindsey & Africa and Mlegal.[106] Along with Clarence Thomas, she is on the Board of Trustees at her alma mater, the College of the Holy Cross. The couple have two adopted children: John "Jack" and Josephine "Josie".[13]

Roberts is one of 14 Catholic justices—out of 114 justices total—in the history of the Supreme Court.[107] Of those fourteen justices, five (Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Brett Kavanaugh) are currently serving.


In the summer of 2007, Roberts suffered a seizure while he was at his vacation home on Hupper Island off the village of Port Clyde in St. George, Maine.[108][109] As a result of the seizure he fell 5 to 10 feet (1.5 to 3.0 m) on a dock near his house but suffered only minor scrapes.[108] He was taken by private boat to the mainland[109] (which is several hundred yards from the island) and then by ambulance to Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport, where he stayed overnight, according to Supreme Court spokesperson Kathy Arberg.[110] Doctors called the incident a benign idiopathic seizure, which means there was no identifiable physiological cause.[108][109][111][112]

Roberts had suffered a similar seizure in 1993.[108][109][111] After this first seizure, Roberts temporarily limited some of his activities, such as driving. According to Senator Arlen Specter, who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee during Roberts's nomination to be Chief Justice in 2005, senators were aware of this seizure when they were considering his nomination, but the committee did not think it was significant enough to bring up during his confirmation hearings. Federal judges are not required by law to release information about their health.[108]

According to neurologist Marc Schlosberg of Washington Hospital Center, who has no direct connection to the Roberts case, someone who has had more than one seizure without any other cause is by definition determined to have epilepsy. After two seizures, the likelihood of another at some point is greater than 60 percent.[109] Steven Garner of New York Methodist Hospital, who is also uninvolved with the case, said that Roberts's previous history of seizures means that the second incident may be less serious than if this were a newly emerging problem.[111] The Supreme Court said in a statement that Roberts has "fully recovered from the incident" and that a neurological evaluation "revealed no cause for concern."

Personal finances

According to a 16-page financial disclosure form Roberts submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee prior to his Supreme Court confirmation hearings, his net worth was more than $6 million, including $1.6 million in stock holdings. At the time Roberts left private practice to join the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003, he took a pay cut from $1 million a year to $171,800; as Chief Justice, his salary is $255,500 as of 2014. Roberts also holds a one-eighth interest in a cottage in Knocklong, an Irish village in County Limerick.[113]

In August 2010, Roberts sold his stock in Pfizer, which allowed him to participate in two pending cases involving the pharmaceutical maker. Justices are required to recuse themselves in cases in which they own stock of a party.[114]

Bibliography of articles by Roberts

The University of Michigan Law Library (External Links, below) has compiled fulltext links to these articles and a number of briefs and arguments.

  • Developments in the Law—Zoning, "The Takings Clause", 91 Harv. L. Rev. 1462 (1978). (Section III of a longer article beginning on p. 1427)
  • Comment, "Contract Clause—Legislative Alteration of Private Pension Agreements: Allied Structural Steel Co. v. Spannaus," 92 Harv. L. Rev. 86 (1978). (Subsection C of a longer article beginning on p. 57)
  • New Rules and Old Pose Stumbling Blocks in High Court Cases, Legal Times, February 26, 1990, co-authored with E. Barrett Prettyman Jr.
  • Roberts, John G. (1993). "Article III Limits on Statutory Standing". Duke Law Journal. 42 (6): 1219–1232. doi:10.2307/1372783. JSTOR 1372783.
  • Riding the Coattails of the Solicitor General, Legal Times, March 29, 1993.
  • The New Solicitor General and the Power of the Amicus, The Wall Street Journal, May 5, 1993.
  • "The 1992–1993 Supreme Court". Public Interest Law Review. 107. 1994.
  • Forfeitures: Does Innocence Matter?, New Jersey Law Journal, October 9, 1995.
  • Thoughts on Presenting an Effective Oral Argument, School Law in Review (1997). Link
  • The Bush Panel, 2003 BYU L. Rev. 62 (2003). (Part of a tribute to Rex. E. Lee beginning on p. 1. "The Bush Panel" contains a speech by Roberts.)
  • Roberts, JOHN G. (2005). "Oral Advocacy and the Re-emergence of a Supreme Court Bar". Journal of Supreme Court History. 30 (1): 68–81. doi:10.1111/j.1059-4329.2005.00098.x.
  • "What Makes the D.C. Circuit Different? A Historical View" (PDF). Virginia Law Review. 92 (3): 375. 2006.
  • "A Tribute to Chief Justice Rehnquist" (PDF). Harvard Law Review. 119: 1. 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 4, 2009.

See also

Further reading

News articles
  • "Roberts Listed in Federalist Society '97–98 Directory". Washington Post. July 25, 2005.[115]
  • "Appellate judge Roberts is Bush high-court pick." MSNBC. July 19, 2005.[116]
  • Argetsinger, Amy, and Jo Becker. "The nominee as a young pragmatist: under Reagan, Roberts tackled tough issues." Washington Post. July 22, 2005.[117]
  • Barbash, Fred, et al.: "Bush to nominate Judge John G. Roberts Jr." Washington Post. July 19, 2005.[118]
  • Becker, Jo, and R. Jeffrey Smith. "Record of accomplishment—and some contradictions". The Washington Post. July 20, 2005.[119]
  • Bumuller, Elisabeth, and David Stout: "President chooses conservative judge as nominee to court." New York Times. July 19, 2005.[120]
  • Entous, Adam. "Bush picks conservative Roberts for Supreme Court." Reuters. July 19, 2005.[121]
  • Goodnough, Abby. "Nominee Gave Quiet Advice on Recount" New York Times. July 21, 2005.[122]
  • Lane, Charles. "Federalist affiliation misstated: Roberts does not belong to group." Washington Post. July 21, 2005.[123]
  • Lane, Charles. "Short record as judge is under a microscope." Washington Post. July 21, 2005.[124]
  • Groppe, Maureen, and John Tuohy. "If you ask John where he's from, he says Indiana." Indianapolis Star. July 20, 2005.[125]
  • McFeatters, Ann. "John G. Roberts Jr. is Bush choice for Supreme Court." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. July 19, 2005.[126]
  • Riechmann, Deb. "Federal judge Roberts is Bush's choice." Associated Press. July 20, 2005.[127]
  • "Colleagues call high court nominee a smart, self-effacing 'Eagle Scout'." New York Times. July 20, 2005.[128]
  • "Who Is John G. Roberts Jr.?" ABC News. July 19, 2005.[129]

Government/official biographies

  • "President announces Judge John Roberts as Supreme Court nominee." Office of the Press Secretary, Executive Office of the President.[130]
  • "John G. Roberts biography." Office of Legal Policy, U.S. Department of Justice.[131]
  • "Biographical Sketches of the Judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit." United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.[132]
  • John G. Roberts Questionnaire for Appeals Court Confirmation Hearing (p. 297–339) and responses to Questions from Various Senators (p. 443–461)[133]
  • Coffin, Shannen W. "Meet John Roberts: The President Makes the Best Choice." National Review Online. July 19, 2005.[134]
  • "Former Hogan & Hartson partner nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court." Hogan & Hartson, LLP. July 20, 2005.[135]
  • "John G. Roberts Jr." Oyez.[136]
  • "John G. Roberts, Jr. Fact Sheet" La Lumiere School.[137]
  • "John G. Roberts federal campaign contributions." July 19, 2005.[138]
  • "Progress for America: Support for the Confirmation of John G. Roberts"[139]
  • "Report of the Alliance for Justice: Opposition to the Confirmation of John G. Roberts to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit." Alliance for Justice.[140]
  • Joel K. Goldstein, "Not Hearing History: A Critique of Chief Justice Roberts's Reinterpretation of Brown," 69 Ohio St. L.J. 791 (2008).[141]


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  141. Joel Goldstein (2008). "Not Hearing History: A Critique of Chief Justice Robert's Reinterpretation of Brown". Ohio State Law Journal. 69 (5). SSRN 1387162.
  • Biskupic, Joan (2019). The Chief: The Life and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Roberts. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 9780465093274.
Legal offices
Preceded by
James L. Buckley
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Succeeded by
Patricia Millett
Preceded by
William Rehnquist
Chief Justice of the United States
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Nancy Pelosi
as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
Order of Precedence of the United States
as Chief Justice of the United States
Succeeded by
Jimmy Carter
as Former President of the United States
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