Who is John Roberts?

JULY 29: Supreme Court nominee Judge John Roberts meets with Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) in Byrd's office July 29, 2005 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Roberts was making the rounds on Capitol Hill after President George W. Bush nominated him to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. CBS/AP

As senate confirmation hearings begin Monday for Judge John Roberts, President Bush's choice to be the next chief justice of the United States, CBS News Senior White House Correspondent Bill Plante takes a closer look at the man who could lead the Supreme Court for decades to come.

Who is John Roberts?

He has a reputation for getting along well with just about everyone. But his friends say it's hard to know what he's really thinking. In high school, he captained his football team, and he worked summers in a steel mill to help pay his way through college.

He even plays squash with both hands to keep his opponent guessing.

John Glover Roberts Jr. grew up in Indiana near the shores of Lake Michigan, attending parochial schools and serving as an altar boy.

At age 13, applying to a private Catholic high school in La Porte, Roberts wrote: "I won't be content to get a good job by getting a good education. I want to get the best job by getting the best education."

Roberts went on to Harvard College and Harvard Law School, where he was managing editor of the Law Review.

"He was ambitious but not in a self-promotional way," says former roommate, Richard Lazarus. "He was ambitious because he wanted to be as many of us wanted to be when you choose a profession. You have an ambition to be the best that you can possibly be."

Now a Georgetown professor, Lazarus has remained a close friend since the Harvard days, and says, "He was not self impressed. He didn't spend his time trying to impress others. He was quiet; very thoughtful; very contemplative intelligence. And he was very funny."

Roberts went on to clerk for Justice William Rehnquist, work in the Reagan administration, and serve the first President Bush as deputy solicitor general, an impeccable conservative resume.

Lazarus notes, "John is conservative in his political beliefs. He is somebody, though, who has not defined his life driven by his politics or driven by his ideology."

Later, in private practice, Roberts specialized in arguing cases before the Supreme Court - 39 of them.

"I always got a lump in my throat whenever I walked up those marble steps to argue a case before the Court," Roberts said. "And I don't think it was just from the nerves."

In 1996, he married Jane Sullivan, also a lawyer, and they adopted two children.

Lazarus notes, "One of the most transformative moments of John's life was when Josie and Jack became part of their family five years ago. What an amazing moment for John and Jane!"

And two years ago, Roberts, nominated by President Bush, reached the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Those who know Roberts say he's smart, hard working, and friendly. But that really doesn't answer the question: Who is he?

He has a short paper trail as a judge, and the White House won't release his writings from the first Bush administration. Documents from his time as a young conservative in the Reagan White House show that Roberts raised questions about affirmative action, privacy and civil rights issues. Now, the Senate will be raising those same questions to him.
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