The Perfectionist

By Klaidman, Daniel | Newsweek, September 17, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Perfectionist


Klaidman, Daniel, Newsweek


Byline: Daniel Klaidman

A lifetime of order, upended by Obamacare. How Chief Justice John Roberts will handle it.

The day after the Supreme Court announced its bombshell health-care decision, Chief Justice John Roberts joked that he would be fleeing to Malta. It's "an impregnable fortress island," he quipped at a judges' conference in Pennsylvania. "It seemed like a good idea."

Roberts did indeed leave Washington for the Mediterranean island nation, where he taught a two-week class on the history of the Supreme Court. His real refuge, however, was Hupper Island--a small bit of land nearly kissing the coast of Maine where he and his family bought a modest vacation home in 2006. Roberts arrived on Hupper Island in early August and quickly settled into the soothing summer rituals that help him unwind and escape the pressures of his job. He puttered around in his little outboard motorboat, hiked along the island's winding trails through lush meadows and birch groves, and took the kids to the nearby general store for ice-cream cones. But this year there was an addition to the routine: Roberts had a security detail trailing his every move. With the toxic climate that followed the health-care decision, court officials were leaving nothing to chance.

For many Democrats, Roberts's Obamacare ruling was an act of judicial statesmanship that saved the Supreme Court from becoming a virtual arm of the Republican Party. For the right, which had championed his elevation to chief justice, it was an ideological stab in the back. But for Roberts himself, it was arguably the apotheosis of a jurisprudential and personal struggle years in the making--between his staunch conservatism and his attachment to predictability, social harmony, decorum, and propriety. "John's caution is very deep-seated," says a former colleague who would speak about the chief justice only on the condition of anonymity. "He doesn't like surprises." In voting to uphold health-care reform, Roberts showed deference to the elected branches of government, averted a direct clash with a president from an opposing party in the heat of a national election, and strengthened the court's institutional legitimacy as a neutral arbiter of the law. The court's public image, however, remains extremely divisive. And inside the court, Roberts's own last-minute vote change seems to have inflamed his conservative colleagues. Now, as the chief justice prepares to take up the gavel for his eighth term, tackling such politically fraught issues as affirmative action, gay marriage, and voting rights, he presides over a court awash in recriminations and leaks: just the kind of disorder and unseemliness that John Roberts has spent his whole life avoiding.

To understand Roberts's psychology, it helps to begin with a moment that he would probably like to forget: his administering of the presidential oath to Barack Obama.

A rock-ribbed Republican, Roberts almost certainly did not vote for Obama. But he enjoys the pomp and ceremony of his job and was looking forward to the small but highly visible constitutional role he would play during the swearing-in ceremony. A new book on the relationship between Roberts and the Obama White House by journalist Jeffrey Toobin reconstructs the elaborate planning that led up to the quadrennial ritual in cinematic detail. Toobin reports that Roberts relentlessly rehearsed the 35-word oath. His wife, Jane, joked that her husband had repeated the oath in their suburban home so many times, "the dog thinks it's the president." During a run-through a few days before the inauguration, Roberts shunned a notecard that had the text of the oath on it. He would rely on his memory. (A Supreme Court spokeswoman said she was unable to confirm Toobin's account.)

But when the moment came, Roberts bungled it. Obama briefly jumped the gun, which flustered the chief justice. He dropped some words and said others out of order. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Perfectionist
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.