Interview With Chief Justice Roberts

So it's a very important part of the process to get the feedback. Some of it's oral, some times you walk down the hall to try to say, and you get a memo from someone and you don't quite understand it. You certainly will walk down the hall and say, 'I don't quite get it. What are you trying to say here or what am I missing?'

Other times, you pick up the phone. So there's a lot of exchanging that goes on.

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: Some of your colleagues have suggested that you've loosened things up a bit. There's more discussion in conference, even on the bench you don't cut the lawyers off as quickly as your predecessor did. How do you see yourself as different than Chief Justice Rehnquist?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, I don't know if that's true or not that it's looser in that respect. I hope I have a little bit of sympathy for the lawyers arguing in front of the court, since it wasn't too long ago that I was trying to make a living doing that, and it's very difficult.

The arguments are quite—anyone who hasn't been to an argument really should. It's a good show and it's very tough on the lawyers, because you get a lot of questions and they're all on different subjects. Just because justice so-and-so is focused on the jurisdictional issue doesn't mean the next question isn't going to be from a different justice on an entirely different question, and the lawyer's got to be able to respond effectively to all of that.

And, you know, it's no secret we're communicating with each other through the lawyers. It's quite common for a lawyer to get a question and before the lawyer can answer, another justice to pop in, "Well, isn't the answer to that this."

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: Justice Scalia does that. And Justice Souter does it.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, they all do and the other justice will say, "Well, if you answer that, then you'd have to say, well, what's the answer to this." And before the lawyer can say, the other justice will pop in again.

You know, you feel like you're at Wimbledon or something, just watching the back and forth. But it's an exciting exchange, but we do get a lot out of it, particularly if the lawyers are good and I think we're very fortunate these days. We have a very good Supreme Court bar that, by and large, is quite helpful in moving us along in the decisional process.

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: So how are you different than Chief Justice Rehnquist? How do you think you'll be different as a justice and as chief?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: You know it's hard for me to say, primarily because I can't look ahead and see what I will be like. It's a continual educational process. I hope I will be a better chief justice my second year than I was my first year. You learn things. You learn that certain approaches might work and might not work and I'll hopefully get better at it as I go on. So it's hard for me to tell. And I think Chief Justice Rehnquist changed, as well. Certainly, he was doing things differently toward the end of his time on the court than he was before.

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: What's an example?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, he moved from being an associate justice to the chief justice and I think, as a chief justice, he appreciated that he had some responsibilities to try to deal with the court as a court, a responsibility that he might not have felt as directly when he was an associate justice. I think that comes with the territory.

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