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John Roberts--More Evidence that He Thinks Like a Historian

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Another document has now come to light that reflects Robert’s continuing interest in historical scholarship. It is an article entitled “Oral Advocacy and the Re-emergence of a Supreme Court Bar” published this year in an issue of the Journal of Supreme Court History (2005, Vol. 30 No. 1; pp 68-81). In this most recent writing Roberts reflects on the historical trend toward “discernible professionalization among the advocates before the Supreme Court” (of which Roberts is one) and traces the role that oral advocacy has had on the court.


Reading between the lines, the article suggests that Roberts has a tremendous respect for the history of the Supreme Court as an institution. Furthermore, his training as a historian is reflected in how he examines case law, analyzes statutes, and probes for weaknesses in arguments. There is no question he values legal precedent.

The article focuses on the historical role that Supreme Court specialists have played in the operations of the court. To that end Roberts central conclusion is that “oral argument is terribly, terribly important.” He compares these court specialists to medieval stonemasons who spent months carving intricate gargoyles in high cathedrals where practically nobody would see their work: “The stone masons did it because they were carving for the eye of God,” wrote Roberts. Similarly, “the advocate who stands before the Supreme Court also needs to infuse his craft with a higher purpose. He must appreciate that what happens here, in case after mundane case, is extraordinary – the vindication of the rule of law…the higher purpose will steel him for the long and lonely work of preparation…and will forge a special bond with his colleagues at the Supreme Court bar.”

Read entire article at Newsletter of the National Coalition for History

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