A Court Choice Well Schooled in Chief Justice Job's Pitfalls





As a Supreme Court law clerk more than two decades ago, John G. Roberts Jr. learned how not to be chief justice. His boss back in 1980-81 was an associate justice, one who often chafed under the leadership style of Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and who freed, even encouraged, his law clerks to poke fun at what they saw as the chief justice's pomposity and penchant for self-aggrandizement.

Later, when Mr. Roberts was working in the White House counsel's office, memorandums from that period show, he devoted considerable attention to knocking down various proposals from Chief Justice Burger, including one for a new tribunal to ease the Supreme Court's workload.

In a 1983 memorandum, to Fred F. Fielding, the White House counsel, he said a Burger request for authority to name an administrative "chancellor" for the federal courts was "the silliest" of various proposals and added, in a reference to the Anglophilia for which the chief justice was well known around the court, "The bill does not specify whether the Chancellor will wear a powdered wig."

Justice Rehnquist, upon becoming chief justice in 1986, promptly made changes that clearly reflected his own disapproval of how Warren Burger had run the court.


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