Interview With Chief Justice Roberts

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: So what do the other justices call you?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: You mean when I'm not in the room?

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: When you're sitting around the table. How do you refer to each other?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, we call each other by our first names, except they call me "chief." That's the tradition, and they have from the beginning. I think it's more a tribute to the office.

And it's also convenient, because otherwise there would be two Johns in the group and we'd never know who they were talking about, John Stevens.

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: Do you ever have to tell a justice to be quiet?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: We do have a rule. One of the strict rules, which I think is a very important one, is that nobody gets to speak twice until everyone has spoken once. That prevents it from degenerating into squabbling.

And I have had to rule on whether facial expressions count as talking twice. You know, rolling the eyes and stuff like that.

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: And what did you decide?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Yes, we need to keep those to a minimum.

But, no, some cases are easier than others and, in some cases, things move pretty quickly. I think we should do this for this reason and others agree and then others are more involved and it's not at all unusual for someone who's speaking fifth or sixth to say, 'You know, I have a different view of this. I think we ought to look at it from this perspective and decide it on this basis,' and then sometimes we'll have to go around again, because you want to give other people a chance to react to that.

But it's hard. Anytime you get nine people together, whether it's at a party or it's in the conference room of the Supreme Court, you do have to maintain some order, or it does kind of degenerate into squabbling pretty quickly.

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: And it's not like they're that opinionated or anything… CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: People have strong views, but remember we're lawyers and as Holmes once said, 'Certitude is not the test of certainty.' It's not how strongly you feel about it, but how effective you can be in explaining the reasoning and getting others to understand the reasoning and if they disagree, they don't just disagree and say, 'Well, I don't agree with that,' they try to explain why and it's a very important part of the process.

People wonder, 'When do you make up your mind?' Well, we don't make up our minds until the opinion is released. The briefs are an important part of it. You can read the briefs and you look at it one way and then you see the other side's brief and you think, 'Oh, that's a little different.'

The argument's a very important part of it. We don't make up our minds before argument, so we learn a lot there. It's also the first time we learn what the other justices are thinking. We don't talk about the cases much, if at all, beforehand. So you suddenly learn at argument, 'Oh, Justice Ginsburg thinks that jurisdictional issue is important, I should look at that again,' and you're going to hear from the lawyers and they may point out particular things.

And when you go to conference, you learn more and you learn, for example, a justice who was asking a lot of questions on a particular point may have come to the view that, 'Well, it doesn't really matter after all and I have a different view,' and that goes into it.

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