Interview With Chief Justice Roberts

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: As a lawyer in Washington, some people have said that you also keep your views pretty close to the vest—that you weren't outspoken in terms of being a conservative or a liberal. Some people weren't quite sure what to make of you when you were first nominated. Is that just your style or was that a deliberate…?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: I don't know. I think it's more a function of personality. Certainly, in Washington, there are a lot of people that feel the need to tell you their views on everything the moment they meet you and that's Washington and that's understandable.

But my own view is that there is a lot more to life than politics and people are interesting in different ways and I just don't think it's necessarily the number one item on everybody's agenda.

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: Now, you had argued before the justices.


CRAWFORD GREENBURG: Some of them, 39 times. What was it like going straight onto the court as the boss?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, first of all, you need to understand that the chief justice is unlike any other boss I've ever had. I have the same vote that everyone else does and we decide things as a collegial body after consultation.

The chief justice really doesn't have a lot of authority of the sort that would cause you to refer to him as a boss.

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: You can't tell Justice Scalia what to do?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: You know, I don't think anybody can tell Justice Scalia what to do. No, the only authority I have of any real significance is that I do get to assign the opinions. Now, you can always give all the tax opinions to a justice, if you want to punish them.

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: Have you done that so far?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Not yet. But, you know, it is an important responsibility, because you can exercise some, hopefully, power of persuasion in getting the court to try to function as a court, which I think is very important. But that's a responsibility really that all of the justices have.

I think we're most effective when we operate and function as a court rather than nine separate individuals and I think we all need to do what we can to work toward that end.

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: So when you're assigning an opinion, you're in the majority, and you get to pick a justice, how do you make that decision? What do you factor into that decision?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Actually, it's a very complicated process and it takes place on a Friday afternoon, at the end of our argument session. You want to be fair, first of all. Everybody should get an assignment. You want to be fair in the workload. Some cases are harder than others. You want to make sure that somebody doesn't have two very hard cases in a row but it's balanced out. You have to be fair in the interest level.

You know, we hear 80 cases a year, 10 of which might of interest to your viewers, your readers, the others more mundane. You want to make sure everyone has their fair share of interesting cases and has their fair share of what we call the dogs, the uninteresting cases.

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