WASHINGTON – Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., a Buffalo native, will travel to Jamestown in May to speak at the Robert H. Jackson Center, which honors another Supreme Court justice with Western New York roots.
The Jackson Center announced Monday that Roberts will speak at 10 a.m. May 17 from the center’s front porch. The address will be open to the public and also will be webcast into classrooms in schools throughout Western New York.
“This extraordinary event will be tailored to make history come alive for area students, helping them gain a better understanding of the U.S. Constitution and the role of the judiciary in our federal system of government,” said James C. Johnson, president and CEO of the Jackson Center. “Invitations will be extended to area schools and the general public.”
The chief justice’s speech marks an important milestone for the Jackson Center, said Gregory L. Peterson, Jackson Center co-founder and board member.
“It demonstrates not only the center’s past successes in preserving Justice Jackson’s legacy, but also the continuing role of the Jackson Center in teaching the lessons of Justice Jackson’s life and work to future generations,” said Peterson, who heads Phillips Lytle LLP’s Jamestown office.
Officials from the Jackson Center first approached Roberts about speaking in Jamestown at the time of his confirmation in 2005 and has kept in close touch with his staff ever since, Peterson said.
“They decided the most propitious time for him to speak would be on the 10th anniversary of the dedication of the Jackson Center,” given that Roberts’ predecessor, the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, spoke at the center’s opening, Peterson said.
The streets near the Jackson Center will be closed off at the time of the speech, allowing for upwards of 3,000 people to attend, said Peterson, who added that many students from around Western New York are expected to attend.
Jackson, who grew up in Frewsburg, near Jamestown, served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court from 1941 until his death in 1954. Legal scholar Laurence Tribe has called Jackson “the most piercingly eloquent writer ever to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.”
At Roberts’ 2005 confirmation hearings, Tribe also praised Jackson for writing skill, as well as his willingness to rule against Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration even though he had served it as attorney general.
“One of the reasons I’ve given previously for admiring Justice Jackson is he was one of the best writers the court has ever had,” Roberts said. “I think you didn’t have to be a lawyer to pick up one of his opinions and understand exactly what his reasoning is and why he’s saying that.”
Jackson also served as chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals after World War II. That service, combined with his record on the high court, prompted Congress last year to name Buffalo’s new federal courthouse after him.
Roberts was born in Buffalo in 1955 and lived there until he was in the fourth grade. He is the son of Rosemary and John Glover “Jack” Roberts Sr., who was a plant manager at Bethlehem Steel.
After receiving undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University, Roberts served in a variety of government positions and later became one of the most respected litigators before the Supreme Court.
He served for two years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit before then-President George W. Bush appointed him to succeed Rehnquist in 2005.