What to know about John Roberts, chief justice of the United States
- President George W. Bush nominated Roberts for chief justice in 2005.
- John Roberts is a member of the court’s conservative wing. But he has been known to break with his conservative colleagues.
- Before Roberts became chief justice he served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, to which he was confirmed in 2003.
A slew of surprising decisions in recent years had at one point established Chief Justice John Roberts as the court’s swing vote.
He drew criticism from Republicans for being the deciding vote in 2012 to uphold Obamacare and siding with the court's liberal wing to uphold President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy for "Dreamers."
But ever since President Donald Trump nominated Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the high court in 2020, conservatives have enjoyed a 6-3 advantage. Among the conservative justices, Roberts is no longer needed to achieve the five votes required for a majority.
When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion, Roberts did not join the majority, calling the decision "a serious jolt to the legal system."
Roberts has often sought to insulate the high court from politics and often taken an incremental approach in high-profile cases on hot-button issues – crafting narrow rulings that might win over justices of all ideologies. Perhaps because of that, he has been criticized on the left for his conservative approach to the law and on the right for being an unreliable ally.
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Here’s what to know about Roberts.
Who is John Roberts?
John Roberts is the 17th chief justice of the United States.
How old is John Roberts?
John Roberts was born Jan. 27, 1955 in Buffalo, New York. He is 67 years old as of May 2022.
Who appointed John Roberts?
President George W. Bush nominated Roberts in 2005.
How long has John Roberts been chief justice?
Roberts has served as chief justice since September 2005. Before Roberts became chief justice he served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, widely considered the second-most important court in the nation. Bush nominated Roberts to the appeals court in 2001 and the Senate confirmed him in 2003.
Roberts spent the 1980s working in President Ronald Reagan's administration, serving in the White House counsel's office before moving to the Department of Justice and becoming the principal deputy solicitor general. After his time at DOJ, Roberts worked in private practice until Bush tapped him for the appeals court.
Who did John Roberts replace?
Roberts succeeded William Rehnquist, who died in 2005. Rehnquist had served as chief justice from 1986 until his death.
Who did John Roberts clerk for?
Roberts clerked for William Rehnquist during the Supreme Court's 1980-1981 term when Rehnquist was an associate justice.
Is John Roberts a liberal or a conservative?
Roberts is a member of the court’s conservative wing. But he has developed a reputation as a bit of a wild card on the court, sometimes breaking with his conservative colleagues.
What is John Roberts' party affiliation?
Roberts was appointed by a Republican president and is considered a conservative, but it is unclear whether he is a registered Republican voter. An investigation by judicial watchdog group Fix The Court found no party registration data for Roberts.
What does John Roberts do as chief justice?
The chief justice has additional responsibilities. Roberts directs some of the questioning at oral argument, presides over closed-door meetings of the justices and gets to decide who will write the majority opinion of the court in a particular case if he is voting with that majority. That's because the chief justice is always the court's most senior member, even if he or she has not served the longest.
Under the Constitution, the chief justice also presides over impeachment trials in the Senate, when the House impeaches the president. Roberts presided over Trump's first impeachment trial, in 2020, but not over the second one because Trump had already left office.
As chief justice, Roberts oversees the entire federal courts system. He presides over the Judicial Conference of the United States, a body made up of each circuit court's chief judge, a district judge from each regional judicial circuit and the Court of International Trade's chief judge. The conference is tasked with reviewing the federal courts' internal and administrative affairs. The chief justice holds sole appointing power over the conference's many committees.
Each year, Roberts issues a report on the federal judiciary.
How has John Roberts ruled?
John Roberts tends to rule with the court’s conservatives. But he mixes it up more than some of the other justices. According to the Harvard Law Review, Roberts sided with liberal Associate JusticeStephen Breyer 66% of the time in the 2020 term, compared with 65% of the time with conservative Associate Justice Clarence Thomas.
Notably, Roberts did not side with the Supreme Court's five other conservatives in overturning Roe v. Wade in June. He instead voted to uphold the Mississippi law passed in 2018, banning nearly all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.
Previously, he partially dissented from a major decision in December 2020 that allowed Texas' controversial ban on abortion after six weeks to stand.
What is one of Roberts’ most significant opinions?
In 2012, Roberts authored the 5-4 majority opinion in NFIB v. Sebelius that concluded the Obamacare penalty for not obtaining health insurance was a tax and within the scope of Congress’ power.
Where did John Roberts go to school?
John Roberts graduated from Harvard University in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in history that he earned in only three years. He earned a law degree at Harvard Law School in 1979.
Does John Roberts have a family?
Roberts married Jane Sullivan Roberts in 1996. They have two children.
What is John Roberts' religion?
John Roberts is one of six Catholic justices on the court.
Did John Roberts wish graduating students bad luck at a commencement speech?
Yes, John Roberts gave a commencement speech at his son’s ninth-grade graduation ceremony in 2017. Instead of wishing them good luck, he said he wished them bad luck "from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either."
"Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen," Roberts said. "And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes."
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His decision to ditch generic commencement speech "good luck" wishes made national headlines at the time.
Contributing: John Fritze
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