John Roberts Jr., Chief Justice of the United States, visits VLS Sept. 10

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. participated in a wide-ranging conversation with Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit at Vanderbilt Law School Sept. 10.

Chief Justice Roberts paid tribute to his late colleague Justice John Paul Stevens, calling Stevens “a true American patriot.” Stevens retired from the Court in 2010 and died on July 16, 2019.

Roberts was appointed Chief Justice of the United States by President George W. Bush in 2005. He cited the two judges for whom he worked as a law clerk―Judge Henry Friendly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and then-Justice William Rehnquist of the Supreme Court of the United States―as the major influences on his writing, describing Friendly’s style as “comprehensive elegance that leads you through the thought process” and Justice Rehnquist’s as “geometric and structural.”

Noting that he considers his three sisters, none of whom are lawyers, when writing legal opinions, he said, “Writing should be accessible to smart laypeople.”

In addition to urging colleagues to read the judicial opinions of Friendly, Rehnquist and former Chief Justice John Marshall, Chief Justice Roberts also recommended the detective novels of Elmore Leonard and the comic novels of British author P.G. Wodehouse.

Chief Justice Roberts fielded questions from students and faculty addressing how he works with his four law clerks and his transition from an advocate for clients in private practice to the judicial role. He also emphasized personal advice then-Justice Rehnquist offered his clerks: “If you want to spend time with your young children, you have to do it when they’re young.”

Chief Justice Roberts joined Dean Chris Guthrie at a reception with local federal judges, faculty and alumni following his talk.

The event was attended by more than 240 VLS students, faculty and alumni with additional seating provided in an overflow room to which the talk was live-streamed. It was supported in part by the Sims Family Fund.

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