John Roberts Jr., a former federal appellate judge, became the
17th chief justice of the United States on Sept. 29, 2005, and
at age 50, the youngest in two centuries.
The Senate's 78-22 vote to confirm the man described as a conservative
with a quiet manner included all Senate Republicans and about
half of the Democrats.
President Bush had nominated Roberts to replace retiring Supreme
Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Following the death of Chief
Justice William Rehnquist from thyroid cancer, the president elevated
Roberts' nomination to the chief justice position.
at one time clerked for Rehnquist, and in accepting the president's
nomination, said, "I am very much aware that if I am confirmed
I would succeed a man I deeply respect and admire, a man who has
been very kind to me for 25 years."
Roberts also served as deputy to then-Solicitor General Kenneth
Starr at the Justice Department. During his career, he argued
39 cases before the high court in the public and private sector,
and won 25.
In 2001, President Bush nominated Roberts to the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and he was confirmed by the Senate
in 2003. Roberts also had been nominated to the seat under the
previous Bush administration but never received a Senate vote.
Roberts' relatively short stint on the circuit court meant he
had few published opinions to act as fodder for his opponents,
so his confirmation was generally assumed even at the start of
During Roberts' confirmation hearings, senators tried to draw
out his opinions on issues ranging from affirmative action to
abortion. In general, the candidate addressed questions through
the prism of legal precedent but did not answer specifics.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., asked
Roberts about his views of the landmark 1973 decision Roe v. Wade
that legalized abortion. Specter, a supporter of abortion rights,
asked if the ruling was a "super-duper precedent" in light of
efforts to overturn it.
Roberts said, "It's settled as a precedent of the court, entitled
to respect under principles of stare decisis," a Latin term for
the doctrine that says courts are bound by previous decisions
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Asked what minorities and other
groups of Americans who have faced discrimination in the past
could find in his record to assure them that he would not set
back the progress they have made toward equal opportunity. "Senator,
there's a great deal in my background that you could look to in
that respect," Roberts said. He added that he believes in affirmative
action and has volunteered in a program to help prepare minority
students for the rigors of law school.
Some of the Republicans on the committee used the hearings to
point out other issues with the current Supreme Court. Sen. Jon
Kyle of Arizona said he was troubled by "the Supreme Court's reliance,
or even reference to, foreign law to determine the meaning of
the United States Constitution."
Roberts answered that foreign precedent "allows the judge to
incorporate his or her own personal preferences, cloak them with
the authority of precedent -- because they're finding precedent
in foreign law -- and use that to determine the meaning of the
"And I think that's a misuse of precedent, not a correct use
of precedent," he said.
Roberts stressed at his hearings that as chief justice, he would
seek to build larger and clearer majorities in Supreme Court decisions.
He also said he would be guided by the law and not his personal
opinion on matters.
Before becoming an appellate judge, Roberts practiced law at
Hogan & Hartson in Washington, D.C. from 1986-1989 and again
Between 1989 and 1993, he was the principal deputy solicitor
general in the first Bush administration, helping formulate the
administration's position in Supreme Court cases, reported the
During the Reagan administration, he served as an aide to Attorney
General William French Smith from 1981-1982 and as an aide to
White House counsel Fred Fielding from 1982-1986.
Roberts graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School.
His votes on the D.C. Circuit Court have generally fallen on
the conservative side, but not always, according to the Legal
He ruled in favor of a criminal defendant who challenged his
sentence in a fraud case, in United States v. Mellon, while another
conservative judge dissented.
the July 2004 case Barbour v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit
Authority, Roberts joined a Clinton appointee in deciding that
sovereign immunity did not bar a D.C. employee with bipolar disorder
from suing the transit authority under federal laws banning discrimination
against the disabled.
But in another WMATA case, Hedgepeth v. WMATA, Roberts voted
along with the other judges to uphold the arrest, handcuffing
and detention of a 12-year-old girl for eating a French fry inside
a D.C. Metrorail station.
"No one is very happy about the events that led to this
litigation," Roberts said, according to the Legal Times,
but he ruled that the police did not violate the girls' Fourth
or Fifth Amendment rights.
In another case, Roberts wrote a dissenting opinion that suggested
Congress might lack the power under the Constitution's Commerce
Clause to regulate the treatment of a certain species of wildlife,
reported the Washington Post.
And in Rust v. Sullivan, a 1991 case, he successfully helped
argue that doctors and clinics receiving federal funds may not
talk to patients about abortion, according to Slate.
As a private attorney, he
discussed the close of the 1996-97 Supreme Court term with
its then-5-4 divide, telling the NewsHour, "I do think there's
a solid majority on the court for the proposition that federalism
has to be taken seriously; that states do retain rights under
our federal system. ... I think by enforcing these structural
limitations, states have their powers and rights. The federal
government is limited. The end objective, as the framers intended,
is to protect individual rights."
Roberts was born in 1955 in Buffalo, N.Y., and has a wife and