Chief justice of the United States visits RPI

ROBERTS DISCUSSES the connections between former chief justices and science.

Supreme Court of the United States Chief Justice John Roberts came to RPI on Tuesday to give a speech and answer questions for the Rensselaer community. Even though Roberts said he never imagined being Chief Justice or a judge, he went on to accomplish great things in his career. Roberts graduated from Harvard College with a degree in history, and later on from Harvard Law School with a Juris Doctorate degree. “The only reason I went to law school was because it was clear that there were no jobs for historians,” he said. After graduation, he began serving the American justice system as a practicing lawyer, clerk, judge, and now, Chief Justice. It was in 2005, after the death of Chief Justice Rehnquist, that Roberts was nominated by President Bush and confirmed by the Senate.

Roberts was introduced by President Shirley Ann Jackson. She spoke of the relationship they developed working together for the Smithsonian Institution. President Jackson also explained why it was important to have Roberts speaking at RPI. She explained that it is essential for students to have a greater perspective of the world and be exposed to more than just science-related concepts.

Chief Justice Roberts took the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center stage at 1 pm to begin his speech. He thanked Dr. Jackson for his introduction and continued on to his presentation. Roberts said that he has never spoken at a STEM-oriented university before, and that he wanted to make this speech different. He began by explaining what his presentation would be about. He said he would highlight his predecessor’s connections to science and technology. About the connections, he said, there “are very few.” With his comment, the audience broke into laughter. Immediately, Roberts created a relaxed, playful environment. From the beginning, it was clear that Roberts had put in effort to prepare an exceptional presentation.

Chief Roberts accompanied his spoken presentation with a series of images from each of the 16 Chief Justices that preceded him, which were shown on a projector for everyone to see. He spoke about each Chief Justice, somehow tying each of them to either science or technology. Some of the ties Roberts made were serious, while others were very loose and humorous. For example, when he mentioned Chief Justice Melville Fuller, Robert mentioned the physical resemblance Fuller had to Mark Twain, amusingly connecting Fuller to science and technology by mentioning the physical resemblance Twain had to Albert Einstein. Later, Roberts was less humorous when he mentioned Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, who was driven to find for a cure to diabetes for his daughter. Hughes found a doctor in Canada who helped his daughter. When it came time to connect himself to science and technology, Roberts said that his connection was “being here today.”

After his presentation concluded, President Jackson proceeded to ask him questions. The first question she asked him was who was his greatest influence. The incumbent Chief Justice’s answer was John Marshall. He is Robert’s greatest influence because he changed the role of a Chief Justice, making it serious.

Responding to another answer, Roberts spoke about leadership. He said as a good leader, he has learned that he is not always the best leader. He knows when to back off and let his colleagues take on the leadership roles they are best at. Continuing to speak about his colleagues, he mentioned that he has also learned to be fair and effective, by getting to know each of his colleagues and their different work ethics. As a group, he says they know each other well. He mentioned that each time they work on a case, all the justices eat lunch together “without speaking about business.” He mentioned that, because they work together so closely and for so long, they restrain from long-lasting arguments. Roberts said that their disagreements are “like a marriage – not all fights have to be huge fights.” Thinking about their work dynamics, Roberts said that it is best to keep cameras and recording private from the public. He said that at the end of the day, their job is not to educate the public, and humorously added that they “might end up talking like they do in congress.”