Monday, May. 08, 2006

John Roberts

The stars must have been aligned that January morning in 1955 when John G. Roberts Jr. was born in Buffalo, N.Y., because almost everything thereafter led him straight to the Supreme Court of the U.S. He graduated from Harvard College, then excelled at Harvard Law School as well as in his work at the U.S. Attorney General's office. It was there that our paths first crossed, for he helped prepare briefing papers for my confirmation hearings to the Supreme Court in 1981. He was later a successful litigator and partner at the Washington firm of Hogan & Hartson. He argued 39 cases in the Supreme Court and was highly regarded as one of the best advocates in the history of the court.

When I announced my retirement, Roberts, now 51, was nominated by President Bush to fill my seat. When Chief Justice William Rehnquist died last September, Roberts' nomination as Associate Justice was withdrawn, and he was nominated to fill the vacancy for Chief Justice. He did a masterful job navigating the always perilous waters of the confirmation process. He took his seat as Chief Justice on Sept. 29. It was a momentous day for the country.

As Justice Byron White used to say, the arrival of a new Justice creates an entirely new court. This is particularly true when the new Justice is also the new Chief Justice. The new Chief can bring tremendous changes in the operations of the court, from the way cases are discussed and opinions written to the very guiding ethos and atmosphere. Few have made the transition as seamlessly and effectively as Roberts. He knew our traditions well, as he had clerked in 1980 for then Associate Justice Rehnquist. His sense of humor and articulate nature and calm demeanor combine to make him a very effective Chief. I'm certain he will serve a long tenure in the role and be an effective leader not only for the Supreme Court but for all the federal courts in the nation.

O'Connor was a Supreme Court Associate Justice 1981-2006