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The Chief
Cover of The Chief
The Chief
The Life and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Roberts
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An incisive biography of the Supreme Court's enigmatic Chief Justice, taking us inside the momentous legal decisions of his tenure so far


John Roberts was named to the Supreme Court in 2005 claiming he would act as a neutral umpire in deciding cases. His critics argue he has been anything but, pointing to his conservative victories on voting rights and campaign finance. Yet he broke from orthodoxy in his decision to preserve Obamacare. How are we to understand the motives of the most powerful judge in the land?


In The Chief, award-winning journalist Joan Biskupic contends that Roberts is torn between two, often divergent, priorities: to carry out a conservative agenda, and to protect the Court's image and his place in history. Biskupic shows how Roberts's dual commitments have fostered distrust among his colleagues, with major consequences for the law. Trenchant and authoritative, The Chief reveals the making of a justice and the drama on this nation's highest court.

An incisive biography of the Supreme Court's enigmatic Chief Justice, taking us inside the momentous legal decisions of his tenure so far


John Roberts was named to the Supreme Court in 2005 claiming he would act as a neutral umpire in deciding cases. His critics argue he has been anything but, pointing to his conservative victories on voting rights and campaign finance. Yet he broke from orthodoxy in his decision to preserve Obamacare. How are we to understand the motives of the most powerful judge in the land?


In The Chief, award-winning journalist Joan Biskupic contends that Roberts is torn between two, often divergent, priorities: to carry out a conservative agenda, and to protect the Court's image and his place in history. Biskupic shows how Roberts's dual commitments have fostered distrust among his colleagues, with major consequences for the law. Trenchant and authoritative, The Chief reveals the making of a justice and the drama on this nation's highest court.

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About the Author-
  • Joan Biskupic is a legal analyst at CNN. Previously, she served as an editor-in-charge for Legal Affairs at Reuters and as the Supreme Court correspondent for The Washington Post. A Pulitzer Prize-finalist and author of books on Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, and Sonia Sotomayor, Biskupic lives in Washington, DC.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    February 1, 2019
    Digging into the life career of the elusive chief justice.CNN legal analyst Biskupic, who was the Supreme Court correspondent at the Washington Post and has written biographies on Sonia Sotomayor, Antonin Scalia, and Sandra Day O'Connor, is perfectly positioned to dissect the first decade-plus tenure of Chief Justice John Roberts (b. 1955). Appointed by President George W. Bush in 2005 after the sudden death of William Rehnquist, Roberts, at only age 50, was chosen for his conservative bona fides, his Ivy League education, the many cases he had argued before the Supreme Court, and his resistant views on affirmative action and voting rights, among other expressed opinions. Indeed, in his general approach to law, Roberts has proven that he is, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg declared, "born conservative." Yet he has also made some intriguing decisions--e.g., finding the core of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare--the provision upholding the individual insurance mandate--constitutional in the watershed case National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012). While his 2013 Selby County v. Holder decision "eviscerating a key section of the Voting Rights Act" addressed what he perceived as the "failure of racial remedies in America"--as Biskupic writes, it "marked the first time since the 19th century that the Supreme Court struck down a civil rights law protecting people based on race"--he seems, on the basis of other rulings, concerned that his court is delineated solely along political lines. After Scalia's death in February 2016, the court was left without a successor for more than 400 days thanks to political maneuvering and the Republican blocking of President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland--a difficult period for the court. As the author demonstrates in her incisive analysis, the 5-4 "conservative-liberal fault line" has prevailed--e.g., in the upholding of Donald Trump's Muslim ban. A thorough, albeit somewhat premature, biographical portrait.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 11, 2019
    Biskupic (Breaking In: The Rise of Sonia Sotomayor and the Politics of Justice), a legal analyst for CNN who has covered the Supreme Court since 1989, offers an in-depth analysis of the career and judicial philosophy of the current chief justice, John Roberts. Biskupic goes light on Roberts’s personal life and mundane day-to-day details, focusing instead on his work in the George H.W. Bush Justice Department, his time on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, his 2005 appointment and confirmation to the Supreme Court, and his role in the back-and-forth of the justices’ decision making. Biskupic is clear that Roberts’s views are deeply conservative and, in the areas of race and religion, unlikely to change, but she also discusses at length his surprising vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act, which infuriated conservatives and prompted liberals to hope he may compromise on culturally divisive issues. At times Biskupic is openly critical of Roberts; she raises doubts about his claim that the Court’s recent decisions on voting rights, religion, and campaign finance were neutral decision making rather than the work of a political institution. In these pages, Roberts comes across as a dyed-in-the-wool conservative whose views have remained remarkably unchanging over time. Biskupic’s analysis will be closely read by Court watchers on both the Right and Left.

  • Booklist

    February 15, 2019
    During Roberts' reign as the seventeenth chief justice of the Supreme Court, he has attracted detractors when he ruled favorably in a case involving the Affordable Care Act, going against the wishes of fellow conservative jurists and lawmakers in failing to dismantle President Obama's signature legislation. Equal outrage was sparked among liberal factions when he took the lead in the Citizens United case, which opened corporate coffers to political campaigns. Being in the center of the storm is not a natural setting for Roberts, an introspective, midwestern conservative and devout Catholic who knew from an early age that the law was his calling. As legal analyst and biographer Biskupic continues her look at the Supreme Court, following Breaking In: The Rise of Sonia Sotomayor and the Politics of Justice (2014), she evaluates Roberts' tenure via the court's most disputed cases involving race, voting rights, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ rights. What emerges is a balanced portrait of this most influential of judges. What surprises is the unprecedented glimpse at the interpersonal, and often contentious, relationships that reverberate throughout the court.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

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The Life and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Roberts
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