The Supreme Court is not an unfamiliar place to John G. Roberts Jr.
The son of a former steel plant manager in Indiana and now President Bush’s nominee to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, he has argued cases in front of the high court 39 times.
The federal appeals court judge, who clerked for then-Associate Justice William H. Rehnquist after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1979, forged his litigation skills in winning 25 of those cases, earning a reputation — one that stands today — as a well-prepared advocate, brilliant writer and aggressive debater.
Only a few of the more than 180,000 lawyers admitted to the Supreme Court Bar have ever argued more than three dozen cases before the court, but Judge Roberts was a frequent visitor, having served as Solicitor General Kenneth W. Starr’s chief deputy and being head of the appellate practice group for the District law firm Hogan & Hartson.
“John Roberts knows his way around the court and is a solid candidate for nomination because of his respect not only for the text of the Constitution but for the role the American people and their elected representatives play in our government,” said Mark Levin, former chief of staff to Attorney General Edwin Meese.
“By all accounts, he does not view himself as a judicial monarch like too many of the current justices,” said Mr. Levin, who heads the conservative watchdog law firm Landmark Legal Foundation.
Judge Roberts, who sits on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, received overwhelming support from the D.C. Bar in 2003 when nominated by Mr. Bush to the appeals court.
More than 150 bar members wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation process to describe him as “one of the very best and most highly respected appellate lawyers in the nation, with a deserved reputation as a brilliant writer and oral advocate.”
Judge Roberts grew up in Long Beach, Ind., near Lake Michigan — a community where Bethlehem Steel managers lived. In high school, he was an excellent student and athlete, named as captain of the football team as well as editor of the school’s newspaper. He graduated from Harvard summa cum laude in three years and received his law degree magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.
After graduation, he clerked for Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Henry Friendly and for now-Chief Justice Rehnquist. His public service career includes terms as associate counsel to President Reagan and principal deputy solicitor general.
At 50, Judge Roberts — if confirmed — would be the youngest associate justice currently on the court. He also would be the 11th Catholic to serve on the high court and join with Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy in outnumbering Protestants on the court for the first time.
According to the Indianapolis Star, Judge Roberts attended a Catholic boarding school in Long Beach, Ind., then transferred to La Lumiere, at the time an all-boys Catholic boarding school near La Porte, Ind. He graduated from there in 1973.
But Judge Roberts considers his faith “a private matter,” said Shannen Coffin, former deputy assistant attorney general during Mr. Bush’s first term.
“He is not going to approach the law as a Roman Catholic, nor as a white male,” Mr. Coffin said. “John is a practicing Catholic but like most Catholics, he doesn’t wear his faith on his sleeve. He is a man of deep and personal faith, but he’d also say he’d like to leave it at that.”
Judge Roberts’ wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, also is an attorney. From 1995 to 1999, she was an executive vice president for Feminists for Life, a 33-year-old pro-life group based in the District. She still serves as legal counsel for the FFL board.
“She’s a brilliant attorney and we’re very proud of her service to Feminists for Life,” FFL President Serrin Foster said. “She’s smart. There’s a very Kennedyesque feeling when you look at them and their kids.”