John Roberts
Official portrait of John Roberts as Chief Justice of the United States
Official portrait, 2005
17th Chief Justice of the United States
Assumed office
September 29, 2005
Appointed 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
Appointed byGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byJames L. Buckley
Succeeded byPatricia Millett
Principal Deputy Solicitor General
of the United States
In office
October 24, 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
Born
John Glover Roberts Jr.

(1955-01-27) January 27, 1955 (age 69)
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
Spouse
Jane Sullivan
(m. 1996)
Children2
EducationHarvard University (BA, JD)
AwardsHenry J. Friendly Medal (2023)
SignatureCursive signature in ink

John Glover Roberts Jr. (born January 27, 1955) is an American jurist who has served as the 17th chief justice of the United States since 2005.[3] He has been described as having a moderate conservative judicial philosophy, though he is primarily an institutionalist.[4][5] For his willingness to work with the Supreme Court's liberal bloc, Roberts has been regarded as a swing vote.[6][7]

Born in Buffalo, New York, Roberts was raised Catholic in Northwest Indiana and educated at parochial schools. He studied at Harvard University with the initial intent to become a historian, graduating in three years with highest distinction, then attended Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. Before holding positions in the Reagan and senior Bush administration, Roberts served as a law clerk for Judge Henry Friendly and Justice William Rehnquist. From 1989 to 1993, he was Principal Deputy Solicitor General, after which he built a successful appellate practice and argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court.[8]

In 1992, President George H. W. Bush nominated Roberts to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, but the Senate did not hold a vote on his confirmation.[9] In 2003, President George W. Bush appointed Roberts to the D.C. Circuit.[10] In 2005, Bush nominated Roberts to the Supreme Court, initially as an associate justice to fill the vacancy left by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, but promoting him to chief justice after Rehnquist's death. Roberts was confirmed by a Senate vote of 78–22.

As chief justice, Roberts has authored majority opinions in many landmark cases, including National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (upholding the Affordable Care Act), Shelby County v. Holder (defining limits on the Voting Rights Act of 1965), Carpenter v. United States (expanding digital privacy), and Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard (overruling race-based admission programs). Roberts also presided over the first impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Early life and education

Roberts was born on January 27, 1955, in Buffalo, New York, to Rosemary (née Podrasky) and John Glover "Jack" Roberts Sr., both devout Catholics.[11] His father had Irish and Welsh ancestry and his mother was a descendant of Slovak immigrants from Szepes, Hungary.[12] He has an elder sister and two younger sisters.[13] Roberts spent his early childhood years in Hamburg, New York, where his father worked as an electrical engineer for the Bethlehem Steel Corporation's factory in Lackawanna.[14]

In 1965, ten-year-old Roberts and his family moved to Long Beach, Indiana, where his father became the manager of a new steel plant in nearby Burns Harbor.[15] By age 13, Roberts "already had a clear plan for his life".[16] He attended the La Lumiere School, an academically rigorous Catholic boarding school in La Porte, Indiana,[17] where he captained the school's football team, participated in track and field, and was a regional champion in wrestling. He also participated in choir and drama, and was a co-editor of the school newspaper.[15] He graduated in 1973 as class valedictorian, becoming the first graduate of the La Lumiere School to enroll at Harvard University.[18]

At Harvard College, Roberts dedicated himself to studying history, his academic major. He had entered Harvard as a sophomore with second-year standing based on his academic achievements in high school.[19] Roberts first roomed in Straus Hall before moving to Leverett House.[20] Every summer, he returned home to work at the steel plant his father managed.[15] Although he initially felt obscured among other students, Roberts distinguished himself with professors, meriting multiple distinctions for his scholarly writing.[21] He gained a reputation as a serious student who valued formalism.[20] Every Sunday, he attended Catholic mass at St. Paul Church.[22]

Roberts focused on modern European history and maintained an interest in politics.[23] As an undergraduate, he excelled academically.[15] In his first year, he won the university's Edwards Whitaker Scholarship for outstanding scholastic achievement.[21] He intended to pursue a Ph.D. in history to be a professor but also contemplated a legal career.[24] One of Roberts's first papers, "Marxism and Bolshevism: Theory and Practice", won Harvard's William Scott Ferguson Prize for the most outstanding essay by a sophomore history major.[21] An early interest in oral advocacy led him to study Daniel Webster, a prominent advocate before the Supreme Court.[25] His senior year paper, "The Utopian Conservative: A Study of Continuity and Change in the Thought of Daniel Webster", won a Bowdoin Prize.[26]

In 1976, Roberts obtained his Bachelor of Arts in history, summa cum laude, with membership in Phi Beta Kappa. A recent surplus of history graduate students convinced him to attend Harvard Law School for better career prospects, though he maintained his original goal to become a professor.[27][a] His first-year performance in law school won him membership on the Harvard Law Review. The journal's president, David Leebron, chose Roberts as its managing editor, despite their differing political views.[27] Classmate David Wilkins described Roberts as "more conservative than the typical Harvard Law student in the 1970s" but well-liked by fellow students.[20] In 1979, Roberts graduated at the top of his class with a Juris Doctor, magna cum laude, despite having to admit himself to a local hospital for exhaustion. He later regretted that during his time at Harvard he traveled into Boston on only a couple of occasions.[29]

Early legal career

After graduating from law school, Roberts was a law clerk for Judge Henry Friendly, one of the most influential judges of the century, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1979 to 1980.[30] Friendly was impressed by his performance. They had similar backgrounds,[31] and co-clerk Reinier Kraakman recalled that "there was a bond between them".[32] When Roberts became a federal judge years later, he identified with Friendly's nonpartisan approach to law and maintained a correspondence with him.[33][b] After finishing his clerkship at the Second Circuit in May,[32] Roberts went to clerk for Justice (later Chief Justice) William Rehnquist at the U.S. Supreme Court from 1980 to 1981.[15]

At the end his clerkship with Rehnquist, Roberts worked to gain admission to the bar, studying with Michael W. McConnell, a law clerk of Justice William Brennan. After the 1980 presidential election, he resolved to work under the new Reagan administration.[35] Rehnquist recommended him to Ken Starr, who was chief of staff to attorney general William French Smith, and Roberts was named a special assistant to the attorney general. After being admitted to the District of Columbia bar and arriving to the Department of Justice in August 1981, he helped Sandra Day O'Connor prepare for her confirmation hearings.[36][c]

As an assistant to the attorney general, Roberts concentrated on the scope of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, especially Section 2 and Section 5, both of which Roberts and other Reagan lawyers believed to have unnecessarily intruded on state regulations.[38] He wrote to Friendly, "This is an exciting time to be at the Justice Department, when so much that has been taken for granted for so long is being seriously reconsidered."[39] Among those he worked with were William Bradford Reynolds in the Civil Rights Division, former classmate Richard Lazarus, J. Harvie Wilkinson III, and fellow special assistant Carolyn Kuhl.[40]

Appellate advocate

President Ronald Reagan greeting Roberts in the Oval Office while Roberts was serving as an associate White House Counsel (1983)

In 1982, Reagan advisor Fred Fielding recruited Roberts to work at the White House. Fielding gathered a group of lawyers that also included J. Michael Luttig and Henry Garrett.[41] From 1982 to 1986, Roberts was an associate with the White House Counsel.[15] He then entered private practice in Washington, D.C., as an associate at the law firm Hogan & Hartson (now Hogan Lovells), working in corporate law.[42] E. Barrett Prettyman, under whom he was first assigned, was one of the most prominent advocates in the country along with Rex E. Lee.[43] Roberts also built a successful practice as an appellate lawyer,[44] heading the firm's division for appellate advocacy.[45] He made his first appearance before the Supreme Court in United States v. Halper, arguing against the government, and the Court unanimously upheld his arguments.[46]

In 1989, Ken Starr relinquished his judgeship on the D.C. Circuit to become U.S. Solicitor General under President George H. W. Bush. Needing a deputy, Starr selected Roberts to join the administration as Principal Deputy Solicitor General.[47][48] "I felt that his experience was good for the political deputy position. [Roberts] was a steady hand, a wise hand. He came in as a person not of vast experience but of vast ability", Starr recalled.[49] With the new appointment, Roberts, whose work had previously been confidential, became a prominent figure at the Supreme Court, leading the filings of the Bush administration and representing it in the media.[50]

As deputy solicitor general, Roberts argued for a number of conservative positions, including those against abortion, an extensive federal jurisdiction, and policies that afford special benefits to minority groups.[51] He frequently appeared before the Supreme Court in up to six cases each year.[52] In 1990, he successfully argued his first case in Atlantic Richfield Company v. USA Petroleum Company, which concerned anti-trust law, and then successfully argued the standing case of Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, which became a hallmark in the field.[53]

Roberts served as the acting solicitor general in Metro Broadcasting, Inc. v. FCC when Starr, the solicitor general, had a conflict of interest. In the case, Roberts argued against FCC policies intended to increase minority ownership of broadcast licenses, arguing that the racial preferences were unconstitutional. Roberts's decision to argue that a federal agency's policy was unconstitutional surprised many lawyers in the Solicitor General's office.[54][55][56] 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.[9]

After Bill Clinton defeated Bush in the 1992 presidential election, Roberts left government service and returned to Hogan & Hartson as a partner. He became the head of the firm's appellate practice and an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. During this time, Roberts argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court, prevailing in 25 of them.[57] He represented 19 states in United States v. Microsoft.[58]

Also during this time Roberts worked pro bono 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." His involvement with the case was minimal; he later said he had spent less than ten hours preparing oral arguments.[59] He argued on behalf of the homeless in a case that was one of Roberts's "few appellate losses."[further explanation needed][60] He also represented, pro bono, a man who was sentenced to death for killing eight people in Florida.[61][62]

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 (although Roberts says he has never been a Federalist Society member).[63] In 2000, Roberts advised Jeb Bush, then governor of Florida, on the Florida election recount during the presidential election.[64]

Selected cases
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

U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Roberts as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (c. 2003)

On May 9, 2001, President George W. Bush nominated Roberts to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to replace judge James L. Buckley, who had recently retired.[65] 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.[66] 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,[67] and received his commission on June 2.[68] During his two-year tenure on the D.C. Circuit, Roberts authored 49 opinions, eliciting two dissents from other judges, and wrote three dissents.[10]

Fourth and Fifth amendments

Hedgepeth v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, 386 F.3d 1148,[69] involved a 12-year-old girl who was arrested, searched, handcuffed, and fingerprinted after she violated a publicly advertised zero tolerance "no eating" policy in a Washington Metro station by eating a single french fry.[70] She was released to her mother three hours later.[71] She sued, alleging that an adult would have received only 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. But because age discrimination is evaluated using a rational basis test, 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."[69]

Military tribunals

In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, Roberts was part of a unanimous circuit panel overturning the district court ruling and upholding military tribunals the Bush administration set up to try 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,[72] 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 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 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.[73] On June 29, 2006, the Supreme Court overturned this decision, with Roberts not participating due to his participation in the case as a circuit judge.[74]

Appointment to Supreme Court

Main article: John Roberts Supreme Court nomination

President George W. Bush announces Roberts's nomination to be Chief Justice (2005).

On July 19, 2005, President Bush nominated Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court to fill a vacancy to be created by the impending retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Roberts's nomination was the first Supreme Court nomination since Stephen Breyer's in 1994. On September 3, 2005, while Roberts's confirmation was pending before the Senate, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died. Two days later, Bush withdrew Roberts's nomination as O'Connor's successor and nominated Roberts to succeed Rehnquist as chief justice.[75]

Roberts's testimony on his jurisprudence

During his confirmation hearings, Roberts said he did not have a comprehensive jurisprudential philosophy and did "not think beginning with an all-encompassing approach to constitutional interpretation is the best way to faithfully construe the document."[76][77] Roberts compared judges to baseball umpires: "[I]t's my job to call balls and strikes, and not to pitch or bat."[78] Among the issues he discussed during the hearings were:

Roberts testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee

Commerce Clause

In Senate hearings, Roberts said:

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.[77]

Federalism

Roberts said 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.[79]

Reviewing Acts of Congress

At a Senate hearing, Roberts said:

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.[77]

Stare decisis

On the subject of stare decisis, referring to Brown v. Board of Education, the decision overturning school segregation, Roberts said: "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."[80]

Roe v. Wade

As a lawyer for the Reagan administration, Roberts wrote legal memos defending administration policies on abortion.[81] At his nomination hearing, he testified that the legal memos represented the views of the administration he was representing at the time and not necessarily his own.[82] "I was a staff lawyer; I didn't have a position," Roberts said.[82] As a lawyer in the George H. W. Bush administration, Roberts signed a legal brief urging the court to overturn Roe v. Wade.[83]

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,[84] 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 abortion. He said: "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 nominees' traditional reluctance 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.[76] Jeffrey Rosen said, "I wouldn't bet on Chief Justice Roberts's siding unequivocally with the anti-Roe forces."[85]

Confirmation

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 opposed. The full Senate confirmed Roberts on September 29 by a margin of 78–22.[86] 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,[87] but all subsequent confirmation votes have been even narrower.[88][89][90][91]

U.S. Supreme Court

Main article: Roberts Court

Roberts is sworn in as Chief Justice by Justice John Paul Stevens in the East Room of the White House as President Bush and Roberts's wife Jane look on, September 29, 2005.

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.

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."[92] Analysts such as Jeffrey Toobin have portrayed Roberts as a consistent advocate for conservative principles.[93] Garrett Epps called Roberts's prose "crystalline, vivid, and often humorous".[94]

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."[95] Roberts has been said to operate under an approach of judicial minimalism in his decisions,[96] having said, "[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."[97] His decision-making and leadership seems to demonstrate an intention to preserve the Court's power and legitimacy while maintaining judicial independence.[98]

In November 2018, the Associated Press approached Roberts for comment after President Donald Trump called a jurist who ruled against his asylum policy an "Obama judge". Roberts responded: "[w]e 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." His remarks were widely interpreted as a rebuke of Trump's comment.[99][100][101] As chief justice, Roberts presided over the first impeachment trial of Donald Trump, which began on January 16 and ended on February 5, 2020.[102] Roberts did not preside over Trump's second impeachment trial, believing that the Constitution requires only that the chief justice preside in the trial of a sitting president, not of a former president.[103]

Although Roberts's judicial philosophy is considered conservative, he is seen as having a more moderate orientation than his predecessor, William Rehnquist, particularly when Bush v. Gore is compared to Roberts's vote for the ACA: 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 his Court with the Rehnquist Court.[104] Roberts's judicial philosophy is also seen as more moderate and conciliatory than Antonin Scalia's or Clarence Thomas's.[105][106][104] He seems to want more consensus from the Court.[105] At the beginning of his tenure, Roberts's voting pattern closely aligned with Samuel Alito's,[107] but in recent years, his voting pattern has resembled Brett Kavanaugh's, who is generally seen as far more moderate than Alito.[108]

After the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, several commentators wrote that Roberts was no longer the leading justice. As the five other conservative justices could outvote the rest, he supposedly could no longer preside over a moderately conservative course while respecting precedent.[109][110] This view was espoused again after the 2022 Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe and Casey.[111][112]

Early decisions

On January 17, 2006, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas dissented 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.

Presidential power

On June 26, 2018, Roberts wrote the majority opinion in Trump v. Hawaii, upholding the Trump administration's travel ban against seven nations, five of which had a Muslim majority.[113] In his opinion, Roberts concluded that 8 U. S. C. §1182(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act gives the president broad authority to suspend the entry of non-citizens into the country and that Presidential Proclamation 9645 did not exceed the limitations of said act.[114] Additionally, Roberts wrote that the proclamation and its travel ban did not violate the Free Exercise Clause, as Trump's statements in support of the ban could be justified on the basis of national security.[115][116]

On July 9, 2020, Roberts wrote the majority opinion in Trump v. Vance, regarding presidential immunity from criminal subpoenas relating to the president's personal information.[117] In doing so, he rejected arguments relating to the investiture of absolute immunity in either the Supremacy Clause or Article II of the Constitution or of presidential entitlement to a higher standard of issuance of a subpoena.[118][119] Roberts emphasized this point, writing, "In our judicial system, 'the public has a right to every man's evidence'. Since the earliest days of the Republic, 'every man' has included the President of the United States."[120]

On July 9, 2020, Roberts wrote the majority opinion in Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP, regarding the authority of congressional subpoenas relating to certain personal information relating to the president.[121] In his opinion, Roberts recognized the role of executive privilege in presidential decision-making but contended that executive privilege did not preclude blanket immunity from records requests, as protection caused by executive privilege "should not be transplanted root and branch to cases involving nonprivileged, private information, which by definition does not implicate sensitive Executive Branch deliberations."[122] Roberts additionally reiterated the necessity of scrutiny in determining when subpoenas are appropriate by highlighting four points:[123][124][125]

Campaign finance

After concurring in Citizens United v. FEC (2010), Roberts wrote the plurality opinion in the 2014 landmark campaign finance case McCutcheon v. FEC. In McCutcheon the Court ruled that "aggregate limits" on the combined amount a donor may give to various federal candidates or party committees violate the First Amendment.[94][126]

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, one objects, and the other consents. Roberts criticized the decision 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.[127]

In Utah v. Strieff (2016), Roberts joined the five-justice majority in ruling that a person with an outstanding warrant may be arrested and searched and that any evidence discovered in that search is admissible in court; the majority 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.[128]

In Carpenter v. United States (2018), 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.[129]

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 in ruling that, before a home is seized and sold in a tax-forfeiture sale, due diligence must be demonstrated and proper notification must be sent to the owners. Justice Anthony Kennedy also dissented. Roberts's opinion was joined by David Souter, Stephen Breyer, John Paul Stevens, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Alito did not participate.

Abortion

In Gonzales v. Carhart (2007), Roberts voted with the majority to uphold the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. 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.[130] Thomas filed a concurring opinion contending that Roe v. Wade and Casey should be reversed; Roberts did not join that opinion.

In 2018, Roberts and Kavanaugh joined four more liberal justices in declining to hear a case brought by Louisiana and Kansas to deny Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood,[131] thereby letting stand lower court rulings in Planned Parenthood's favor.[132] Roberts also joined with liberal justices in 5–4 decisions temporarily blocking a Louisiana abortion restriction (2019)[133] and later striking down that law (June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo (2020)).[134][135] The law at issue in June was similar to one the court struck down in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt (2016), which Roberts had voted to uphold;[136][137] in his June opinion, Roberts wrote that while he believed Whole Woman's Health was wrongly decided he was joining the majority in June out of respect for stare decisis.[136] It was the first time in his 15 years on the Supreme Court that Roberts had cast a vote to invalidate a law that regulated abortion.[138] In September 2021, the Supreme Court declined an emergency petition to temporarily block enforcement of the Texas Heartbeat Act, which bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy except to save the mother's life. Roberts, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan were in the minority.[139] In 2022, Roberts declined to join the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade. He wrote a concurring opinion supporting only the decision to uphold the Mississippi abortion statute, stating that the right to an abortion should "extend far enough to ensure a reasonable opportunity to choose, but need not extend any further." Roberts also declined to join the dissenting opinion by Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.

Capital punishment

On November 4, 2016, Roberts was the deciding vote in a 5–3 decision to stay an execution.[140] On February 7, 2019, he 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.[141] Also in February 2019, Roberts sided with 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.[142][143]

Affirmative action

Roberts opposes the use of race in assigning students to particular schools, including for purposes such as maintaining integrated schools.[144] He sees such plans as discrimination in violation of the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause and Brown v. Board of Education.[144][145] 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,"[146] 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,"[147] and that this "[n]arrow tailoring ... require[s] serious, good faith consideration of workable race-neutral alternatives."[148] 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."[149] 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."

Roberts in 2021

On June 29, 2023, Roberts wrote the majority opinion in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina, which held that race-based affirmative action in both public and private universities violates the Equal Protection Clause.[150]

Free speech

Roberts wrote the majority opinion in 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.[151]

On April 20, 2010, in United States v. Stevens, the Court struck down an animal cruelty law. Writing for an 8–1 majority, Roberts 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.[152]

On March 2, 2011, Roberts wrote the majority opinion in Snyder v. Phelps, holding that speech as a matter of public concern, even if considered offense or outrageous, cannot be the basis of liability for a tort of emotional stress.[153][154] In doing so, he wrote that comments Phelps made constituted "matters of public import" as they related to societal issues and that Snyder was not determined to be a "captive audience" as determined by the captive audience doctrine.[155][156] In his conclusion, Roberts wrote, "On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a nation, we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."[157]

Health care reform

On June 28, 2012, Roberts wrote 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 found that although the Act's "individual mandate" component could not be upheld under the Commerce Clause, the mandate could be construed as a tax and was therefore valid under Congress's authority to "lay and collect taxes".[158][159] 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."[159] Sources within the Supreme Court said that Roberts switched his vote regarding the individual mandate sometime after an initial vote[160][161] and that he largely wrote both the majority and minority opinions.[162] This extremely unusual circumstance has also been used to explain why the minority opinion was unsigned, itself a rare phenomenon at the Supreme Court.[162]

LGBT rights

In Hollingsworth v. Perry (2013), Roberts wrote the 5–4 majority opinion holding that petitioners, appealing a lower court ruling that California's Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, lacked standing to sue, with the result that same-sex marriages resumed in California.[163] Roberts dissented in United States v. Windsor, in which a 5–4 majority ruled that key parts of the Defense of Marriage Act were unconstitutional.[164] The court found that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages that certain states have approved. Roberts dissented in Obergefell v. Hodges, in which Kennedy wrote for the majority, again 5–4, that same-sex couples had a right to marry.[165] In Pavan v. Smith, the Supreme Court "summarily overruled" the Arkansas Supreme Court's decision that the state does not have to list same-sex spouses on birth certificates; Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch dissented, but Roberts joined the majority.[166] In the cases of Bostock v. Clayton County, Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda, and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2020), heard together, Roberts ruled with the 6–3 majority that businesses cannot discriminate against LGBT people in matters of employment.[167] In October 2020, Roberts joined the justices in an "apparently unanimous" decision to reject an appeal from Kim Davis, who refused to provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples.[168]

In Fulton v. City of Philadelphia (2021), Roberts joined a unanimous decision in favor of a Catholic adoption agency that the City of Philadelphia had denied a contract for its policy not to adopt to same-sex couples; he was also part of the majority that declined to reconsider or overturn Employment Division v. Smith, "an important precedent limiting First Amendment protections for religious practices."[169] Also in 2021, he was one of the six justices who declined to hear an appeal by a Washington State florist who refused service to a same-sex couple based on her religious beliefs against same-sex marriage; because four votes are required to hear a case, the lower court judgments against the florist remain in place.[170][171][172] In November 2021, Roberts voted with the majority in a 6–3 decision to reject an appeal from Mercy San Juan Medical Center, a hospital affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, which had sought to deny a hysterectomy to a transgender patient on religious grounds.[173] Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch dissented; the vote to reject the appeal left in place a lower court ruling in the patient's favor.[174][175]

Voting Rights Act

This section may relate to a different subject or has undue weight on an aspect of the subject. Please help relocate relevant information and remove irrelevant ones. (August 2022)

During his tenure as chief justice, Roberts has struck down voting rights protections provided by the Voting Rights Act.[176][177][178] In Shelby County v. Holder (2013), he struck down requirements that states and localities with a history of racially motivated voter suppression obtain federal preclearance before making any changes to voting laws. Research shows that preclearance led to increases in minority congressional representation and minority turnout.[179][180] Five years after the ruling, nearly 1,000 U.S. polling places had closed, many of them in predominantly African-American counties. There were also cuts to early voting, purges of voter rolls, and impositions of strict voter ID laws.[181][182] A 2020 study found that jurisdictions that had previously been covered by preclearance substantially increased their voter registration purges after Shelby.[183] Virtually all restrictions on voting after the ruling were enacted by Republicans.[184]

In 2023, Roberts and Kavanaugh joined the liberals in Allen v. Milligan, a 5-4 decision holding that Alabama's congressional redistricting plan violated Section 2 of the VRA. Writing for the majority, Roberts concluded that Alabama must draw an additional majority-minority district, and determined that Section 2 of the Act is constitutional in the redistricting context. Writing for himself and the three liberal justices, Roberts also wrote that "[t]he contention that mapmakers must be entirely 'blind' to race has no footing in our §2 case law."[185]

Awards and honors

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In 2007, Roberts received an honorary degree from the College of the Holy Cross. He also delivered a commencement address at Holy Cross that year.[186][187][188] In 2023, Roberts was awarded the Henry J. Friendly Medal of the American Law Institute.[189]

Personal life

Roberts and his wife, Jane Sullivan, were married on July 27, 1996.[190] Sullivan is a lawyer who became a prominent legal recruiter at the firms of Major, Lindsey & Africa and Mlegal.[191] Along with Clarence Thomas, she has been on the board of trustees at her alma mater, the College of the Holy Cross. The couple lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, an affluent suburb of Washington, D.C., and they have two adopted children.[192][15]

Health

In 2007, Roberts had a seizure at his vacation home in St. George, Maine,[193][194] and stayed overnight at a hospital in Rockport, Maine;[195] doctors found no identifiable cause.[193][194][196][197] Roberts had suffered a similar seizure in 1993[193][194][196] but an official Supreme Court statement said that a neurological evaluation "revealed no cause for concern". Federal judges are not required by law to release information about their health.[193]

On June 21, 2020, Roberts fell at a Maryland country club; his forehead required sutures and he stayed overnight in the hospital for observation. Doctors ruled out a seizure and believed dehydration had made Roberts light-headed.[198]

Selected works

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Roberts turned down an offer to pursue a doctorate in history at Harvard on a full scholarship.[28]
  2. ^ Roberts has considered Friendly "the most influential figure in his life."[34] During his Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 2005, Roberts later testified about Friendly: "He had such a total commitment to excellence in his craft, at every stage of the process. Just a total devotion to the rule of law and the confidence that if you just worked hard enough at it, you'd come up with the right answers."[34]
  3. ^ Starr chose Roberts to assist O'Connor in matters concerning abortion during her hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Roberts later recalled that "the approach was to avoid giving specific responses to any direct questions on legal issues likely to come before the court, but demonstrating in the response a firm command of the subject area and awareness of the relevant precedents and arguments." O'Connor later received widespread support and was confirmed 99–0 on September 21, 1981.[37]

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Additional sources

External videos
video icon Presentation by Biskupic on The Chief, March 28, 2019, C-SPAN
video icon Q&A interview with Biskupic on The Chief, March 31, 2019, C-SPAN

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