John G. Roberts Jr.: Chief Justice of the United States
Many Americans of this day and age are relatively uneducated about different facets of government. They know there are a president, a vice president, a secretary of state, and other cabinet members. Some can name the three branches of government. Others understand the ins and outs of the voting process or the part different government officials play in politics. However, there are some facets of the government, specifically within the judiciary branch, that are not well known. The Supreme Court is a well-known phrase, and many people know what it is, but hardly anybody knows how it works or who is involved. For example, many people do not know that a man named John G. Roberts Jr. played an instrumental part not only as the United States Supreme Court Chief Justice, but also was a very significant figure in many of the cases that led him to that seat.
Before he was a Chief Justice, John G. Roberts Jr. was born in Buffalo, New York on January 27, 1955 . He was born to his mother, Rosemary, who stayed at home with him and his three sisters, Peggy, Barbara, and Kathy. His father, John Roberts Sr., was a plant manager at Bethlehem Steel. When Roberts was nine, the family moved to Long Beach, Indiana. While there, he graduated from La Lumiere School, in La Porte. It was a Roman Catholic Boarding School where he excelled in academics and sports, according to Claire Cushman’s account of Robert’s life in her book, “Supreme Court Justices: Illustrate Biographies (2012).” He was involved in many extracurricular activities, such as football and the school newspaper, while taking several years of Latin and French. Later Roberts would attend college at Harvard where he would graduate summa cum laude in history in 1976. He would go on to Harvard Law School, become the editor of the Harvard Law Review, and graduate magna cum laude in 1979 before beginning his trek toward becoming Chief Justice, as written in Lawrence Baum’s, “The Supreme Court (2012).”
After Roberts left Harvard Laws school he began work as a clerk for one year for Henry Friendly, who was a judge on the Second Circuit of Court Appeals. Friendly was highly revered by Roberts and is often mentioned in his own opinions . After serving for friendly he served under William Rehnquist of the U.S. Supreme Court, and went on to work in the Reagan administration under Attorney General William Smith. Eventually Roberts began to work under Fred Fielding who, from 1982 to 1986 was part of the White House Counsel (. Finally, in 1986, Roberts began private practice at a law firm called Hogan & Hartson. He was a part of the firm’s pro bono work which was centered around gay rights advocates, as well as preparing arguments for the Supreme Court case Romer v. Evans which took place in 1996, according to “Its Now the John Roberts Court .” He left the firm to serve the George H. W. Bush administration, acting as Principal Deputy Solicitor General until 1993. After the administration, Roberts returned to the firm and made partner. During his time there he argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court; he only lost 14 of them .
After several groundbreaking cases, such as Hedgepeth v. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Toyota Motor Manufacturing v. Williams, Gonzaga University v. Doe, and the military tribunal case Hamden v. Rumsfeld, Roberts was nominated for a seat in the United States Supreme Court by George Bush . This was on July 19, 2005, in order to fill Justice Sandra Day O’ Connor’s position. While waiting to see if he had been elected, on September 3, 2005Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died. Bush withdrew is former nomination, then nominating Roberts for the position of Chief Justice . During Robert’s testimony on jurisprudence, he compared judges to baseball umpires and recalled courtroom etiquette without the use of notes. On September 22, by a vote of 13-5, the Senate Judiciary Committee elected Roberts the next United States Chief Justice. He was sworn in on September 29, 2005 .
Chief Justice Roberts made many changes during his time in the Supreme Court. He ruled that local government may be excused from technical obligations required of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 . He also ruled that some evidence, even if obtained through negligence may be admissible in court, deeming the exclusionary rule to extensive. While these and many other decisions made on his part were controversial, one that grabbed more attention came in 2010 during Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The case demanded that average citizens and corporations have the same rights when engaging in political talks. The majority believed that the decision decimated the efforts to reform and limit the influential power special interest groups held over voters. Supporters of the decision, however, decided it was an acclamation to the First Amendment. President Barack Obama was one of the court’s critics, calling out the decision in a State of the Union Address in 2010. At the time, Roberts was unscathed by the public lashing but did go so far as to state that the president’s choice of public forum in which to announce his displeasure was troubling. To many political scientists, this suggested how different Roberts is from what is considered the “typical” politician. Roberts has never been known to slander anybody, or criticize another’s decision. Instead he handles the case in front of him and moves on to the next. However, other critics have postulated that there was something to be said for the fact that the president may be expected to comment on such a matter, whereas the Chief Justice is not as well-known, nor expected to give his ideas about anybody’s thoughts or opinions .
In June 2012, the headlines were once again filled with Robert’s name, when he voted in an effort to uphold President Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He did so to allow other facets of the law to remain undamaged though it is unclear if he agrees with the health care plan itself. Free health screenings for particular citizens and the ability for citizens under 26 to remain on parental insurance policies were still protected. These were areas of importance to Roberts, and despite his seeming displeasure over other parts of the Affordable Care Act, he voted with the majority in an attempt to preserve these new rights for sick and impoverished citizens. Critics were in an uproar because upholding the law meant that citizens would be forced to buy health insurance or face the penalty of a tax, which was the primary provision of the health care mandate. This made little sense to most because if one could not afford health insurance it was unlikely that they could afford a tax. They stated the law was unconstitutional in accordance with the commerce clause. Supporting citizens of the law have been difficult to locate, but the mandate was still upheld with a 5-4 vote among the justices .
Chief Justice John Roberts has had a remarkably impact on the law, as well as the world. Upholding the constitution, as well as the rights of individuals in every case that he has been a part of, he has managed to set a precedent throughout his career for what is right and what is wrong. He is one of the rare political figures who does not overstep his boundaries, as seen when he described judges as nothing more than umpires in a baseball game, who are there to call foul balls, strikes, and homeruns. While he sometimes has some interesting interpretations of the law, as seen with the case, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, he remains an honest public servant to his country. As we have seen with his views on abortion and health care, he does not always personally agree with the issue he is voting on, but will never fail to do what is best for the country. It is nothing short of inspirational.
Baum, L. (2012). The Supreme Court. Thousand Oaks: SAGE.
Chemerinsky, E. (2012). Its Now the John Roberts Court. The Green Bag, 14-21.
Cushman, C. (2012). Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies. Thousand Oaks: CQ Press.