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The Chief: The Life and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Roberts

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  262 ratings  ·  59 reviews
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.
Kindle Edition, 432 pages
Published March 26th 2019 by Basic Books
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Joan Biskupic is a legal analyst who covers the Supreme Court. She has written biographies about Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia and Sonia Sotomayor.

The book is well written and researched. The author covers the highlights of the Burger Court and the Rehnquist Court. She compares their style of leadership to that of Roberts. Roberts clerked for Rehnquist. Biskupic writes as a reporter, stating facts and where appropriate she provides the various theories that were reported at the
Exploring one of the most powerful and influential branches of the U.S. Government, Joan Biskupic focuses her attention to the man at the pinnacle of the United States Supreme Court (USSC), Chief Justice John Roberts. In this telling biography, Biskupic explores the early years of Roberts’ life and how this helped shape him into the man who holds much power when it comes to interpreting legislative and executive policy for the United States. Biskupic begins her piece by exploring the formative y ...more
Apr 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book on the Chief Justice. As a biography of John Roberts, it doesn’t get below the robes. No underwear. Nothing in his closet. After the obligatory uninteresting summary of his uninteresting life through college, and his maturation in the Reagan White House, the book settles in when he joins the court. From then on, you know almost nothing about his life, but almost everything about his work, and the machinations within the court. Author Joan Biskupic understands cases and ...more
Jul 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My rating would be 4.5 stars if I had the option. This book was a gift and one I would not have thought to read otherwise. I am very glad that it did come my way, however, as I have never focused on the Supreme Court justices to learn more about who they really are. I know basics of course – who is liberal, who is conservative, that many important modern-day decisions have broken down along party lines, that appointments are more contentious than ever, and that long-standing precedents are being ...more
Have not finished far so great.
Lance Cahill
Apr 14, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
The biography, at best, is a compilation of knowledge gleaned from mostly widely reported news stories or interviews with former colleagues that doesn’t deliver much insight. Another example that any biography is worth waiting to write when more rich resources are available. Information on CJ Roberts’ early life is relatively scant and narrow; his time in the Justice Department is left to unremarkable chapters; and the chapters regarding his time as Chief Justice leaves much to be desired (for i ...more
May 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I always enjoy reading books about Supreme Court Justices on both sides of the aisle and this one was excellent. It was interesting to read about the various views of affirmative action. Justice Sonja Sotomayor benefitted from affirmative action a great deal and sincerely believes it is still needed. Justice Clarence Thomas also benefitted from affirmative action but believes its time has passed. Thomas also sincerely believes that it leaves a stain on the person who benefits from it because peo ...more
Robert Melnyk
May 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting and well written book about the life and times of Chief Justice John Roberts. The book goes into the details of many of the critical cases brought before the Supreme Court during Roberts' tenure as Chief Justice, as well as before he was named to the court. It is fascinating to read about these cases, how the various justices view the cases, how they interact with each other, and how they reach their conclusions and how they rule on each case. John Roberts certainly leans to the ...more
May 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: us-supreme-court
I am not a fan of Chief Justice Roberts having been appalled by his routine disregard, in divergence from his Senate confirmation hearing testimony, for stare decisis in general and his rulings on race, abortion, and religion in particular. Several of his rulings have proven to have had decided negative impacts on American democracy (Citizens United, Shelby County, Masterpiece Cake Shop among the more notable) yet Roberts continues firm in his opinions nonetheless. I find that despite his Senate ...more
Ethan Hepworth
Jun 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My actual rating is more around 4.5 stars. The book was fascinating. It helped me understand Roberts’ ideology more completely. My only problems with the book were that I felt like she jumped very quickly between different terms which lessened the continuity of the narrative. I also wish there had been more detailed explanations on some of the other cases outside of the ACA, Shelby County v. Holder, Citizens United, Obergefell v. Hodges, and the affirmative action cases. That’s a problem others ...more
Jul 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written and well researched, Ms. Biskupic's biography provides valuable insight into the early years, education and foundations of the conservative values which formed the Chief Justice. This reader was impressed by the intensity, tenacity and commitment which the Judge has always brought to his work. He is one seriously focused individual. One of the takeaways from this read was how deeply the Chief Justice cares about the institution over which he presides including it's public perception ...more
Jun 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
An informative, insightful portrait of the enigmatic Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Full review coming soon.
I didn’t finish which is unusual for me. I got tired of reading about the privileged life this man has always lead. And he’s supposed to look out for all of Us? Really?
Chris Sosa
May 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The Chief" offers a solid overview of Chief Justice John Roberts' career both on and off the bench. Readers desiring a deeper knowledge of the contemporary Supreme Court and serious analysis of its chief justice will find both here.

It's been said that the author is insufficiently critical of the subject. I found this criticism of the book to be lacking, as the author offered unflinching analysis of Roberts' decisions. My guess is that those desiring a searing takedown or political h
Apr 11, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book falls short of a holistic biography of the man at the head of the American judiciary. There are several shortcomings. Firstly, it is severely lacking in early life details, particularly Roberts' time in law school. The only novel insights the book really offers about his career that you cannot already find online are the details of his Regan years. Secondly, Biskupic focuses extensively on the tension Roberts feels between his ideology and his concern for the reputation of the Court. H ...more
I was afraid that this was going to be a boring book full of legal jargon, discussions of legal cases I had little interest in and a dull biography. However I enjoyed the book. I feel the author was very knowledgeable both of the Supreme Court and the background of John Roberts. Roberts was a very ambitious lawyer and judge. His views are very conservative and are viewed suspiciously by those supporting civil rights, anti discrimination efforts and pro-choice supporters.

Roberts was a
Cole Kroshus
An interesting and sober reminder of how bad things may become on the Supreme Court
Steve Hill
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As authoritative an analysis of Chief Justice John Roberts as we are likely to get at what probably will be the midpoint of his tenure as Chief Justice. Bikupsic persuasively makes the case that Roberts was not candid at his confirmation hearing about his views on race, which have now largely become law. He is an umpire who has not been reluctant to overturn precedent and redraw the “strike zone” to comport with his own long-held views. For me, it’s an interesting but ultimately sad story that p ...more
Mar 26, 2019 marked it as maybe  ·  review of another edition

In 'The Chief,' An Enigmatic, Conservative John Roberts Walks A Political Tightrope. Roberts remains an enigmatic figure. He is a committed conservative who has been publicly reviled by conservative politicians. He is a conservative who is the last best hope of liberals and moderates who dream, probably in vain, that he will significantly temper the court's turn to the right.
Dan Cotter
Mar 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book by Joan Biskupic is focused on the current Chief Justice, John Roberts. It is a very detailed biography and worth the read. For anyone thinking Roberts will become a centrist this book dispels that notion. Joan is perhaps the best SCOTUS reporter out there. Her investigation included more than 20 hours of interviews with Roberts.
Barry Martin Vass
When Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, announced her retirement in 2005, the Bush Administration ultimately settled on John Roberts to replace her as an associate justice. During Roberts' interview with President Bush, the two men "clicked": both were conservative, hard-right Republicans who inherently understood what the other was about. And then two things happened in late August-early September of 2005. Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, and with ...more
James Ruley
Jun 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Chief Justice John Roberts is undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in American government that many Americans don't know about. His influence over the past nearly 15 years as Chief Justice has been powerful, but this book was written to highlight the influence he will likely have as the "middle" of the Supreme Court, at least as it stands today. Roberts is a legal conservative, but also committed to the institutional integrity of the Court, and these two values place him in a highly i ...more
Apr 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is hard to believe after reading this book that the Supreme Court is an objective branch of government. Despite Roberts and Gorsuch claiming to be umpires during their confirmation hearings, this book will demonstrate this branch of government is no less political than the other two branches. This somewhat secretive institution should be more transparent so citizens can better monitor its actions. Having oral arguments on television would be a start in that direction.

Roberts is a hard person
Chase Hartmann
Overall the book is lacking in the unique and interesting details that normally accompany a biography. When you pick up a biography you are hoping to get the behind the scene information you couldn't get anywhere else. It is as if the sources that Biskupic uses are all of the mainstream news articles that the public has access to. She really doesn't provide a lot of new information you couldn't get from the Wall Street Journal, and in that aspect the book was lacking.
I also found Biskupic to h
Lane Willson
I guess it's easier to write about the times surrounding the life of Supreme Court of the United States Chief Justice John Roberts if you describe them as turbulent. And since compared to the Vietnam War and a decade's worth of riots or the depression and two episodes of global carnage that were the majority of the first half of the 20th century, the 1980s and 90's were garden club tea party, you need a tyrant to provide the turbulence. And thus you have The Chief: The Life and Turbulent Times o ...more
Bill Pruitt
May 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A nice behind the scenes look at a man with two faces-one he presents to the public and the one in private. Roberts claims to respect precedent but is willing to overturn it as quickly as possible. He grew up upper class in an all white neighborhood, went to private elite nearly all white schools and then spent his career making it harder for minorities to attain the same education. He also makes it more difficult for minorities to vote, allows the rich to spend unlimited to elect politicians, a ...more
Andrew H
Nov 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I don't think this book provided any groundbreaking, uniquely insightful analysis into what makes the Chief Justice tick (perhaps, as the book suggests, he's simply too private for anyone to really know for sure), it does provide a thoughtful framework for thinking about the balancing act between his various roles, in light of his life experience and apparent values, that characterizes the current stage of Roberts' career (and our Supreme Court). I enjoyed it and found it very easy and ple ...more
Dale Wyant
Jul 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent and comprehensive biography. While Roberts still remains an enigma, it is obvious he is committed to making the court seem above politics and trying to find consensus when he can. He brings his conservative upbringing to bear on his decisions, but he also looks beyond the particular case in front of him to think about unintended consequences and the world as it is now. Sadly, as Biskupic tries to illustrate, his views on race and affirmative action cases Roberts is incredibl ...more
Honey Rand
May 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book would make me feel better about the current political climate. His vote on the Affordable Care Act and the statement to Trump about there being "No Obama Judges, no Clinton judges, no Bush judges.... there are only judges." These things make me want to believe that despite the conservative tilt of the court, they are still our court. After reading the book, I'm very concerned about this tilt of the court, the stocking of the federal courts and the Chief Justice's raw politica ...more
Jeffrey Martin
While this book is well-written, and provides much useful detail about the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Roberts, the author is clearly biased against him. While she often takes the effort to conceal her negative opinion of Roberts and does often (but not always) portray his point of view, she tends to cast his opposition on the Court in more "righteous" terms.
While every author has the right to set their opinions as they see fit, it is disappointing that Biskupic failed to make more e
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JOAN BISKUPIC has covered the Supreme Court since 1989. Previously the Supreme Court reporter for The Washington Post, she is the legal affairs correspondent for USA Today, a frequent panelist on PBS’s Washington Week, and the author of Sandra Day O’Connor: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court Became Its Most Influential Justice. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and daughter.