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John G. Roberts

The chief justice and attorney general are gifted

Being chief justice of the United States or U.S. attorney general can come with perks – like getting gifts from foreign dignitaries.

Of course, the State Department’s Office of the Chief of Protocol keeps tally of such presents. According to the latest list from the agency, featuring gifts bestowed to federal officials in 2010 and 2011, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. received some fancy sandstone bookends and a leather document box from Canadian and Italian officials. The swag’s total value estimated at just over $800.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. pulled in a bigger pile of loot, including an iPad, a Cartier watch and Persian rug, was valued at an estimated $5,275, according to the list obtained by the Wall Street Journal. (The full list contains all the offerings to the president, first lady and their children as well as other officials.)

Federal officials are constitutionally barred from accepting gifts from foreign states. But the gifts are still usually accepted, the most common official reason being “Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government.” They then become government property, usually displayed in the receiver’s office or used for official purposes, like the case of Holder’s iPad. The rest — including Holder’s blingy watch — is transferred to the General Services Administration.

Roberts offers age-old advice on oral arguments

Sometimes a piece of good advice can last through the ages, and at an event last week in western New York State, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. offered an oral advocacy tip from the late Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson: flattery will get you nowhere.

In a speech commemorating the 10th anniversary of the centering honoring the late justice, who was also the chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, Roberts pointed out that Jackson loved oral advocacy – but often admonished lawyers not to try to butter up the members of the court.

“He noted that we justices think well enough of ourselves already,” Roberts said, according to the Buffalo News. “Now, I will have to leave it to others to decide whether that’s changed since Justice Jackson’s time.”

Roberts, like Jackson, hails from the western region of New York State.

The Funniest Justice, week 13: Power laugh

During oral arguments Wednesday in a case considering whether Congress has the power to apply federal sex offender registry requirements retroactively, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. questioned whether the source of Congress’ power matters.

“I don’t see how it makes a difference which enumerated power you’re talking about,” Roberts said.

“I think it does turn on the nature of the power,” said attorney M. Carolyn Fuentes. “I mean, could you use the military power to say you, Mr. Bank Fraud Client, cannot contract with the Government any more? No.”

“I get to ask the questions; you don’t,” Roberts deadpanned, to laughter from the audience.

The chief justice was the top chuckle earner this week with four laugh. And surprisingly, the usually funny Scalia failed to earn a single laugh this week, according to the Supreme Court’s transcripts. But his big lead remains intact.

Here are the standings after 13 weeks:

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 48

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 39

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.: 15

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 9

Justice Elena Kagan: 8

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 7

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 4

Justice Clarence Thomas: 1

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1


Shushing Sotomayor

Emotions – and tensions – ran high at the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday in a case asking whether a federal tribal law allows a biological father to regain custody of a child who had been legally adopted by a couple under state law.

To say it was a hot bench is an understatement. The justices frequently talked over one another and repeatedly interrupted the lawyers at the podium in an attempt to get their questions answered.

Things got so intense that one of the most vocal justices, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, was asked to be quiet by one of her colleagues – twice.

At one point when Sotomayor was rapidly firing questions at attorney Lisa Blatt, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. stopped her. “Could I hear her answer please?” Robert said to Sotomayor before allowing Blatt some time to talk.

Later, when Sotomayor interrupted attorney Paul Clement with her queries, Justice Antonin Scalia stopped her mid-sentence.

“Please finish,” Scalia then said to Clement. “Let’s finish.”

Roberts’ comment on voting record miffs Massachusetts officials

Some Massachusetts officials are fuming over comments made by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. during oral arguments last week in the Supreme Court challenge to portions of the Voting Rights Act.

“Do you know which State has the worst ratio of white voter turnout to African American voter turnout?” Roberts asked Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. Wednesday during arguments in Shelby County v. Holder.

Verrilli said he didn’t, so Roberts answered his own question: “Massachusetts. Do you know what has the best, where African American turnout actually exceeds white turnout? Mississippi.”

The point was that black voter turnout has improved in southern states since the law passed, but the implication that Massachusetts has a problem did not go over well with folks in the Bay State. State Secretary of State William Galvin called the chief justice’s statement “deceptive,” “disturbing,” and an “old slur.”

“I think the record should be corrected,” Galvin told the Boston Globe, as reported by the AP. “He should at least indicate what he’s relying on to make that statement.”   Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson also criticized the chief justice, saying that the voter participation rate in communities of color has increased steadily in recent years.

The chief justice’s mysterious meal

Have you heard the story of the chief justice, the mysterious lunch mate, the plate of penne and the baseball cap?

The tasty tale began with a Reliable Sources tidbit in the Washington Post earlier this week about Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. having the audacity to walk through the front door of Carmine’s in Washington’s Penn Quarter for lunch (rather than using the private entrance as VIPs usually do). He had no reservation, but he and a mystery lunch companion were seated right there in the middle of the dining room where everyone could see the nation’s top jurist munch on pasta with sausage.

Then, Above the Law uncovered other details from tipsters who were there: the lunch companion was “a rather rotund, strangely dressed fellow who kept yapping and waving his arms at Roberts.” And then there’s the matter of the baseball cap sitting on the table, which read in large letters: “THE JUDGE.”

Does the chief justice of the nation really walk around in such a topper? Not likely – ATL surmises that the cap belonged to Robert’s lunch mate, who is believed to be District Court Judge  Richard J. Leon. Mystery solved.

Chief birthday

If wisdom comes with age, then the chief justice of the United States became a little wiser this week.

On Sunday, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. celebrated his 58th birthday.

Roberts gives the oath again – and again and again…

By Monday afternoon, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. should know the presidential oath of office by heart; he will have recited it enough.

Four times, to be exact – although he famously twisted some words the first time he swore President Barack Obama into office, prompting a redo the next day. Roberts officially swears in Obama for his second term in a private ceremony on Sunday, and will repeat the process the next day during the public inauguration ceremony at the Capitol building.

The fiscal chief

The nation may have averted the fiscal cliff, but we already have fiscal federal courts – according to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s latest annual report on the judiciary.

Roberts noted that “for each citizen’s tax dollar, only two-tenths of one penny go toward funding the entire third branch of government!” Still, he wrote, the judiciary has done its part to pinch those pennies in these perilous financial times by implementing cost-cutting measures to reduce rent, personnel and information technology expenses.

But those measures have all but reached their limits. “Because the Judiciary has already pursued cost-containment so aggressively, it will become increasingly difficult to economize further without reducing the quality of judicial services,” Roberts wrote. “[I] therefore encourage the President and Congress to be especially attentive to the needs of the Judicial Branch and provide the resources necessary for its operations. Those vital resource needs include the appointment of an adequate number of judges to keep current on pending cases.”