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John Roberts

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John G. Roberts, Jr.
Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
From: September 29, 2005-present
Nominator George W. Bush
Predecessor William Rehnquist
Successor Incumbent (no successor)
Spouse(s) Jane Sullivan Roberts
Religion Roman Catholic

The Honorable John G. Roberts, Jr. (1955- ) is the 17th and current Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (2005-). He was appointed by President George W. Bush to replace William Rehnquist as Chief Justice, after having served on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Chief Justice John Roberts is known best for building a consensus, and writing opinions to maximize support by fellow Justices. While other Justices often cite their own prior opinions, Chief Justice Roberts is a master at citing the decisions of fellow Justices to win their support for his opinion. But by emphasizing consensus rather than clarity and force of an opinion, Roberts can issue a weak 6-3 or 9-0 opinion rather than a stronger 5-4 version.[1]

Confirmation process

With the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist in 2005, President Bush withdrew Roberts' nomination for associate justice to replace Sandra Day O'Connor and renominated him for chief justice, with only a slight delay in his confirmation hearings to allow for Rehnquist's funeral services. The nomination was first considered by the 18-member Senate Judiciary Committee. On September 22, the committee voted 13-5 to send Roberts' confirmation to the full Senate, winning the support of Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania), and ranking minority member Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont). On September 29, Roberts was confirmed by the full Senate by a vote of 78-22. Hours after confirmation, he was sworn in by the senior associate justice, John Paul Stevens at the White House.

Right to Privacy

Until 1965, some US states criminalized the distribution of contraceptives. In 1965 the Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut, ruled the laws unconstitutional because they violated the right of privacy. Roberts upheld "Griswold" at his 2005 confirmation hearings to be Chief Justice, and indicated the issue was closed.[2]

asked, "Do you agree that there is a right of privacy to be found in the liberty clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?" Roberts responded:
"I do, Senator. I think that the court's expressions, and I think if my reading of the precedent is correct, I think every justice on the court believes that, to some extent or another. Liberty is not limited to freedom from physical restraint. It does cover areas, as you said, such as privacy. And it's not protected only in procedural terms but it is protected substantively as well."
"I agree with the Griswold court's conclusion that marital privacy extends to contraception and availability of that. The court, since Griswold, has grounded the privacy right discussed in that case in the liberty interest protected under the due process clause."
"I feel comfortable commenting on Griswold and the result in Griswold because that does not appear to me to be an area that is going to come before the court again."

United States Supreme Court

In his first two years on the U.S. Supreme Court, Chief Justice Roberts has written only 24 opinions, mostly on uncontroversial or simple topics. In his first year he sought unanimity in his decisions, leading him to dilute the strength of his opinions to satisfy everyone. For example, Chief Justice Roberts obtained unanimity on a controversial Solomon Amendment opinion by stretching to satisfy protesters against military recruiters:[3]

The Solomon Amendment neither limits what law schools may say nor requires them to say anything. Law schools remain free under the statute to express whatever views they may have on the military's congressionally mandated employment policy, all the while retaining eligibility for federal funds. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 25 (Solicitor General acknowledging that law schools "could put signs on the bulletin board next to the door, they could engage in speech, they could help organize student protests"). As a general matter, the Solomon Amendment regulates conduct, not speech. It affects what law schools must do--afford equal access to military recruiters--not what they may or may not say.

Similarly, in the campaign finance case, Roberts invalidated the restriction at issue but avoided establishing a bright-line rule in favor of political free speech.[4]

Record as an Appellate Judge

Chief Justice John Roberts served only briefly as a judge on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit before being nominated and confirmed for the U.S. Supreme Court (he was originally nominated in 1992 for the Court of Appeals by the first President Bush, but the Senate controlled by the Democrats at the time did not allow a vote on his nomination). In one important dissent, then-Judge Roberts declared that "a facial challenge can succeed only if there are no circumstances in which the Act at issue can be applied without violating the" Constitution. Rancho Viejo, LLC v. Norton, 334 F.3d 1158, 1160 (D.C. Cir. 2003), cert. denied, 541 U.S. 1006 (2004).


Health Problems

Justice Roberts suffered a seizure on July 30th 2007 while at his vacation home in Port Clyde, Maine on Hupper Island. As a result of the seizure he fell five to ten feet but suffered only minor scrapes. The fall occurred on a dock near his house and he was taken by private boat to the mainland. Doctors called the incident a benign idiopathic seizure which means there was no obvious physiological cause. Roberts suffered a similar seizure in 1993.


  1. See, e.g., Medellin v. Texas (2008).
  2. See quotations
  3. 126 S. Ct. 1297, 1307 (2006).
  4. FEC v. Wis. Right to Life, Inc., 127 S. Ct. 2652 (2007).