2 Alums May Be Tapped For Court

Experts say Roberts ’76, Gonzales are on Bush’s Supreme Court short-list

Courtesy CLASS Of 1976 25th anniversary report

Judge John G. Roberts, Jr. '76's College yearbook photo.

Sandra Day O’Connor’s resignation from the Supreme Court last week set off a buzz in Washington that has focused the nation’s attention on a handful of possible successors—an elite club of jurists that includes two Harvard alums.

If nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate, either Alberto R. Gonzales or Judge John G. Roberts, Jr. ’76 would become the sixth member of the Court to attend Harvard Law School (HLS).

While Gonzales, an unlikely and quiet legal student turned Attorney General, is seen as too moderate to please Bush’s conservative base, many experts have said that Roberts, who has taken the established path to the Federal Judiciary, is a likely choice given his conservative record on the bench and, prior to that, his sterling record as an attorney before the Supreme Court. Both men, however, seem to have been put on the fast-track to the top of the legal ladder by their beginnings at Harvard.


Classmates from both law school and college remember Roberts as a hard working, earnest, kind, and brilliant person. Roberts, who graduated from the College with a summa cum laude degree in History in just three years, wrote his thesis on British liberalism in the early 20th Century.

One of Roberts’ mentors, William P. LaPiana ’74, a pre-law and history tutor in Leverett House when Roberts lived there, recalls Roberts as a “hard working and happy undergraduate who loved studying history.”

LaPiana said that what he remembered most about Roberts was his self-deprecating jokes.

“He had gotten a wonderful grade and a glowing comment on a term paper in a course on American Intellectual History,” LaPiana said. “Afterwards, he walked into my office and said ‘I think I can get my head through the door.’”

Since then, Roberts has easily sauntered through every door in his path.

He went on to HLS, where he served as Managing Editor of The Harvard Law Review, a position that, as one classmate put it, “you didn’t get unless you were among the top 4 or 5 intellectually in the class.”

Roberts’ colleagues on the Law Review spoke highly of his disposition and ability.

Elizabeth R. Geise, who was on the Law Review with Roberts, remembered him as an “honest, forthright, decent, and fair person who was always there on time, always did his job, and was kind to everyone.”

“He was somebody who got along with everyone, who was obviously very bright but not aggressive,” said Paul K. Rowe ’76, who is also a Crimson editor and was on the Law Review. “He had a Midwestern reserve about not showing off how smart he was.”

Roberts, who was born in Buffalo, New York, moved from his hometown of Buffalo, New York, to Indiana after second grade.

Rowe added that those on the Law Review always thought of Roberts as fair, especially on politically divisive issues. “There was a certain amount of left versus right, but John was someone that everyone could talk to and respected.”