- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — As one of, if not the youngest member of his class, John G. Roberts Jr. was notably shy during his first year at Harvard Law School in 1976.

The Supreme Court nominee had cruised through Harvard undergrad in three years, but compared to some of his quick-tongued peers at the elite law school, he hardly spoke a word in class, former classmates recall.

“He was quiet the first year,” said William J. Kayatta, now a partner at a Portland, Maine, law firm. “Then he was in the top 2 or 3 percent of our section by the end of our first year.”

In the intensely competitive environment, Harvard didn’t publicize class rank to students, so nobody knew at first who had the best grades. But members of the Harvard Law Review, perhaps the world’s most prestigious legal journal, had private access to the grades.

The 15 or so students with the top grades in their class of about 550 would be quietly invited to join the review after their first year.

“Everyone knew who those people were who had gotten invited over the summer,” said Richard J. Lazarus, another member of the law school class of 1979.

John Glover Roberts Jr., a Catholic and son of a steel company executive, had matriculated in 1973 as the first student from his all-boys prep school in northern Indiana to be accepted to Harvard.

It was a time at Harvard that former classmates recall as politically tame compared to the radical campus activism that had defined the late 1960s. Judge Roberts flourished among the best and the brightest during a formative period that set him on the path to prestigious clerkships and a legal appointment within the Reagan administration.

At Harvard, he lived at Leverett House. William P. Lapiana, a prelaw adviser and tutor at the house, remembers Judge Roberts’ cool modesty even while being celebrated by Harvard’s faculty.

“He’d written this wonderful paper on Daniel Webster,” said Mr. Lapiana, now a professor at New York Law School. “He was just very self-deprecating about it, which is pretty good for someone that age who’s that smart.”

His essay, “The Utopian Conservative, A Study of Continuity and Change in the Thought of Daniel Webster,” won the Bowdoin Prize, Harvard’s most prestigious awarded annually for the best essay penned by an undergraduate.

“No one has ever accused Daniel Webster of having an undue regard for the virtues of consistency … but it will be the object of this study to demonstrate that Webster’s thought was essentially consistent, founded on the solid bed-rock of a world view which remained constant despite the vicissitudes of politics,” Judge Roberts wrote.

His other college writings are similarly authoritative. A short paper comparing Marxist theory to the practice of Bolshevism in early 20th-century Russia was co-winner of Harvard’s prestigious Ferguson Prize.

‘Greatest happiness’

Judge Roberts’ 175-page undergraduate thesis offers an extended analysis of the rise and fall of British liberalism on the eve of World War I.

“Free capitalistic enterprise and free trade comprised the liberal economic doctrine, a doctrine Britain’s world trade hegemony made particularly satisfying,” he wrote. “If only freedom were granted in all realms of human endeavor, freedom between men, between man and his God, and between nations, the end result would be the greatest happiness for the greatest number.”

He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in three years. The next year, he enrolled in Harvard Law.

Once selected for law review, he centered his social life around it, spending his free hours working or hanging at Gannett House, where the review is based.

“In between classes, you’d walk over to Gannett House and into the conference room because they always had doughnuts and coffee up there,” said Mr. Kayatta, who also was selected for the review. “You’d debate everything from the political issues of the day to obscure legal theory. It was a great time, being in your 20s and editing law professors from all over the country.”

Judge Roberts’ law school class reads like a who’s who among successful lawyers and politicians. Classmates include Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat and presently a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will convene hearings on Judge Roberts’ confirmation in the coming weeks.

Others include Jane Ginsburg, daughter of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; John Sexton, now president of New York University; Robert D. Luskin, attorney for White House adviser Karl Rove; and David W. Leebron, now president of Rice University in Houston.

The tumultuous Vietnam draft era had passed, and for the first time in years, conservative-leaning students were not ostracized for their views.

Mr. Leebron, who was president of the law review for the class of 1979, selected Judge Roberts to serve as managing editor. He described the period as “almost a political lull.”

It was “before the rise of Reagan and after the Vietnam era,” Mr. Leebron said, adding that he doesn’t recall many classmates “as being terribly political,” and Judge Roberts “certainly was not a polarizing or politicizing figure” at Harvard.

Seen as moderate

Although former classmates said Judge Roberts was known for conservative leanings, several described him as a moderate who also did not wear his religion on his sleeve.

“I don’t really think of John as having a particular ideology during those years,” said Charles E. Davidow, another law school friend and now a partner in a Washington law firm. “If you asked me where he was on the spectrum, I’d say on the conservative side.”

Mr. Kayatta noted that “to be selected managing editor of the [law] review means that he had pretty high regard, trust and respect of a large number of very bright and ambitious people who ran every spectrum, politically, ideologically [and] personally.”

Upon graduation from law school, Judge Roberts headed to New York City where he took a coveted job as a law clerk for federal appeals Judge Henry Friendly.

At the time, Mr. Davidow was clerking for another judge in New York and shared a Manhattan apartment with Judge Roberts. He said the two were making $18,000 to $19,000, “most of which went to rent.”

“We had virtually no money,” Mr. Davidow said, adding they worked long hours but still found time for “getting dinner after work in Chinatown or Little Italy” or the “rare treat” of attending plays on half-price tickets.

Mr. Davidow, a Jew, said religious beliefs were not something he discussed with Judge Roberts. “John certainly doesn’t display any prejudices toward any religions,” he said.

In 1980, Judge Roberts moved to Washington, where Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist selected him for a clerkship. The next year, he was tapped as special assistant to Attorney General William French Smith under President Reagan.

In 1982, he became associate counsel to President Reagan, a job he held until 1986. While he worked long hours, friends say he dated and had occasional girlfriends, although he didn’t socialize much outside of work.

Mr. Lazarus, a longtime personal friend and now a professor at Georgetown University School of Law, shared an apartment with Judge Roberts on Capitol Hill near Eastern Market.

“He wasn’t without a social life,” Mr. Lazarus said, adding the two went golfing at Hains Point or playing squash at the Capitol Squash Club and “every once in a while going to a movie or buying sandwiches on Capitol Hill because we weren’t very good cooks.”

In 1980, they threw a party to watch the returns of the election between Ronald Reagan and President Carter.

“I think we even had two televisions,” Mr. Lazarus said, adding that in the spirit of the night, he placed a figurine of a donkey on top of the television and Judge Roberts placed an elephant beside it.

“He’s very funny,” Mr. Lazarus said, adding that if he remembers correctly, almost no one showed up for the party because Mr. Carter conceded so early in the evening.

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