Among the avid TV viewers of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings on Chief Justice-designate John G. Roberts Jr. this month were teachers who have met him at an annual summer program on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Asked by senators about his pro bono legal work and his ways of staying attuned to ordinary people, Judge Roberts mentioned his participation in Street Law, an educational program that includes a Supreme Court Summer Institute for Teachers.
“I have always found that extremely rewarding, because they have a very different perspective,” Judge Roberts said in reference to the high school government teachers who come to Washington each June to get an intensive look at the high court’s operations and discuss methods of teaching about the law.
Judge Roberts, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has been a speaker at the institute since it began 11 years ago, said Lee Arbetman, the director of U.S. programs for Street Law Inc., the nonprofit Silver Spring, Md., organization that runs it jointly with the Supreme Court Historical Society.
Judge Roberts said he would hope to continue participating if confirmed as chief justice. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 on Sept. 22 to approve his nomination.
“He was more than anything a great teacher,” Julian K. Braxton, who teaches American history at the 420-student Winsor School in Boston, said of Judge Roberts’ 75-minute talk to the group last June. “The way he explained the process of how a case finally came before the Supreme Court was amazing.”
Teachers said Judge Roberts devoted half his session to answering their questions, which might have returned a dividend this month.
“Many of the questions we asked him were asked during his confirmation hearings,” said Joseph Gutmann, a law and government teacher at Central High School in Louisville, Ky., and a former prosecutor. Teachers asked his views of judicial activism, abortion, and other issues, he said. “His answers were identical to what he told the senators. … He didn’t talk down to us.”
Helen Haberman, a teacher in Eugene, Ore., said Judge Roberts, who has argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court, gave a memorable assessment of the justices.
Of one of the high court’s most conservative members, Judge Roberts “said that if the justices were all dogs, [Justice Antonin] Scalia would be a terrier, because he asks these rapid-fire questions, and you don’t know where it was going, and he makes it so tough,” she recalled.
A version of this article appeared in the September 28, 2005 edition of Education Week