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Chief Justice Roberts: Supreme Court Advocate to Legal Legend?

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on September 23, 2011 1:02 PM

Standing in an airport customs line years ago, we met a bodyguard who was considering law school. We gave him our copy of Scott Turow's 1L, and said, "Read it. If you accept everything in this book as true, and you still want to go to law school, then go."

Now it might be best to refer prospective law students to David Kazzie's "So You Want to Go to Law School" video, in which an aspiring law student tells an attorney that she loves the Constitution. The attorney responds, "There are like three lawyers in America who argue constitutional issues ... They all went to Harvard and graduated in the 1970s. Did you go to Harvard?"

There are, of course, a few legal minds basking in constitutional issues who didn't go to Harvard in the '70s, but Chief Justice John Roberts isn't one of them.

Justice Roberts, (Harvard College '76, Harvard Law School '79), is the third-youngest Chief Justice to be appointed to the bench. (John Jay, appointed at age 44 in 1789, still holds the youngest title, over 200 years later.) While Roberts' name doesn't yet rank with the grand Marshalls of the Court - John and Thurgood - some Supreme Court watchers think that it will.

"He's going to go down as an absolutely historic figure," Tim Goldstein, leading Supreme Court advocate and SCOTUSblog proprietor, told CNN earlier this year. Goldstein characterized Roberts as the "best Supreme Court advocate of his generation" based on Roberts' 39 appearances before the Court in his days in the Solicitor General's office and private practice.

With good health, Justice Roberts could beat John Marshall's record for longest-serving Chief Justice; Marshall served for 34 years. While Roberts may not always rule over a conservative majority like the Court enjoys today, he will still exercise considerable influence over the judiciary both in deciding who will write majority opinions, and in guiding court policies as head of the Judicial Conference.

With hot-button social issues like immigration reform, marriage equality, and health care mandates begging for Supreme Court review, Justice Roberts will have ample opportunity to leave an indelible mark on jurisprudence.

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