Interview With Chief Justice Roberts

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: It's been a fascinating education for me. It was obviously the one part of the process that I hadn't observed before as a lawyer or as a clerk, because when we sit at conference, it's just the nine justices. We conference twice a week. We hear arguments Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Wednesday afternoon, we'll have a conference about the cases argued on Monday. Friday we'll have a conference about the cases argued Tuesday and Wednesday. We go in order of seniority. So I start, you know, this case is about whatever, I think we should do this for this reason or these reasons.

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: So you actually vote and say this is the way I think the case should come out?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Yes, and it should be reversed or affirmed or vacated, whatever. Then the next senior justice, John Stevens, who's been on the court for more 30 years and has a lot of experience that I don't have, will state his views and either agree or disagree or even if he agrees, may have different reasons. Then we go in order to Justice Scalia, Justice Kennedy, Justice Souter, and so on, until we finish up with Justice Alito. And the junior-most justice, they've always said it's an unusual position, most times, things are pretty much settled and decided by the time you get to the ninth justice and people are kind of moving on to the next case, which is a little disappointing to them.

But there are those times when it's four to four and then people are very much interested in what the junior justice has to say. But you may have heard that the junior justice, since there are only justices in the room, has the responsibility of answering the door if someone knocks with a message or a cup of coffee for somebody.

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: So does he have to go get the coffee?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: No, no, but someone will bring it. But there's a knock on the door and he has to get up. And it took him the longest amount of time, because before Justice Alito and I joined the court, the group had been together for 11 years, the longest time in history for a nine member court, and Justice Breyer had been the junior justice that whole time.

The first time there was a knock on the door, when Justice Alito was the junior justice, Justice Breyer popped right up and walks over and it took several conferences before Justice Breyer learned not to answer the door and Justice Alito learned to do it.

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: So when you're in the conference, have you made any changes or are you doing it the same way as your predecessor?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: It's hard for me to say, because I obviously wasn't there before and the proceedings in the conference are kept very confidential, other than what I just said.

So it's hard for me to say. The one thing I will say, though, is that, one, I found the conference sessions very edifying, because as I said, not having participated in them before, you never quite know what to expect. But the discussion is one at a very high level.

It's hard work, I have to say, in terms of what's hard about the job, getting ready for the conference has struck me as really the hard part of my work. And second of all, it's done in a very collegial way.

The others have said this and I can confirm, I mean, I've never heard an angry word at the conference, even though we discuss issues that people feel very strongly about and are very sensitive issues, if the discussion is had at the highest level.

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