(Boston, Revised-4/5/16): Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Jr., spoke about the process for choosing Supreme Court justices, how to argue before the Supreme Court, and even his use of a Bob Dylan lyric in an opinion in an extraordinary visit to New England Law | Boston that culminated in his appearance as guest of honor at the school’s annual Law Day Banquet before 1,000 New England Law students, alumni, judges, and other representatives of the Massachusetts legal community.
The evening with Chief Justice Roberts drew positive media coverage in more than 50 news outlets, including the Washington Post and U.S. News & World Report. A video of the on-stage conversation between Chief Justice Roberts and Dean John O’Brien that took place at the event and was covered by C-Span’s on February 15.
One remarkable aspect of the Chief Justice’s visit on February 2 and 3 was his personal interaction with students and faculty, including first-year Civil Procedure students, who were treated to the guest lecturer of a lifetime. The excited students asked about life on the Supreme Court, the Court’s goals in choosing to hear a case, and what to avoid as future attorneys. The Chief Justice’s thoughtful responses on these and other questions underscored the students’ impressive access to the most prominent judge in the U.S.
In 1958, President Eisenhower proclaimed the first Law Day a “day of national dedication to the principle of government under law.” New England Law has celebrated Law Day with annual events and speakers since 1970.
At this year's evening Law Day Banquet, the conversation between Chief Justice Roberts and Dean John O’Brien was projected on large monitors, providing the entire ballroom with an intimate view.
One back and forth addressed the Chief Justice’s goal of reaching agreement among his fellow justices. “You can’t compromise the way you do in the legislature,” he admitted, since justices are individually empowered. Even so, broader agreement is achieved more often than most people realize. “More of our decisions are 9-0 than anything else,” he said.
Dean O’Brien highlighted the Chief Justice’s preference for clear, direct language when he mentioned an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts that included a lyric from a Bob Dylan song. In the case, Sprint Communications v. APCC Services, Roberts wrote that one party lacked the standing to participate before adding Dylan’s words, “When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”
The wide-ranging conversation between Dean O’Brien and Chief Justice Roberts also touched upon the Chief Justice’s leadership style, the lack of familiarity of many Americans with the functioning of the Supreme Court, and the ramifications of advancing technology.
“We are deeply grateful to Chief Justice Roberts for visiting our law school and community and for his invaluable contributions to our students on campus and as a faculty member in our summer abroad programs in Galway, Ireland, and London,” said Dean O’Brien. “This marvelous event has benefited us all.”
Sean Nabi ’16 said Chief Justice Roberts’s visit was a highlight of his law school experience and typical of the opportunities he has received at New England Law. Nabi has worked for both federal and state government, in legal offices, and with state judges including Justice Robert Cordy of the Supreme Judicial Court. “New England Law has given us unbelievable opportunities not only with Chief Justice Roberts but with really building ourselves in the legal community before we graduate,” he said. “The opportunities are unmatched.”
The Law Day banquet at the Westin Copley Place Boston was attended by many leaders of the Massachusetts legal community including Chief Judge Jeffrey Howard, U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit; Chief Judge Patti Saris, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts; U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz ’12 (honorary); former U.S. Attorney and New England Law trustee Wayne A. Budd ’81 (honorary), ’89 (honorary); Supreme Judicial Court Justice Robert J. Cordy ’04 (honorary); Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland ’92 (honorary) (retired); Attorney General Maura Healey; former Attorney General Tom Reilly; Chief Justice Paula Carey ’86, Massachusetts Trial Court; and Chief Justice Roberto Ronquillo, Jr. ’84, Boston Municipal Court.
Previous visitors to New England Law include Supreme Court Justices Harry Blackmun, Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony M. Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas; U.S. Senator Scott Brown; Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justices Roderick Ireland ’92 (honorary) and Margaret Marshall; Vermont Governor Howard Dean; U.S. Representative Niki Tsongas; former chief UN weapons inspector Dr. Hans Blix; and former federal Court of Appeals judge and solicitor general Kenneth Starr.
Students in the classroom sessions raised issues of personal interest, including what career advice the Chief Justice might offer to law students. Lawyers sometimes change their focus during their careers, Chief Justice Roberts explained, and some lose sight of why they entered the profession to begin with. “Try to keep in mind why you went to law school,” he counseled. “It’s a great profession.”