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John G. Roberts, Jr.

Extremely rare compilation of Chief Justice Roberts’s opinions

during the Supreme Court’s October 2018 Term,

inscribed and signed by Roberts to one of his law clerks

beneath a photo of him with his clerks

John Glover Roberts, Jr., 1955–.  Chief Justice of the United States, 2005–.  Superb 6” x 9¼” hardbound book, a compilation of Chief Justice Roberts’s October 2018 Term opinions, inscribed and signed to one of his law clerks, For Cole Carter, / with best wishes / and warm regards, / John G. Roberts, Jr.

This extraordinary and extremely rare book was a memento for one of Chief Justice Roberts’s departing law clerks.  It memorializes the clerk’s work with the Chief Justice during the Supreme Court’s October 2018 Term.  The book was specially printed for the law clerk, whose name is imprinted in gilt at the bottom left corner of the cover.  The clerk’s name also appears in the list of law clerks on the title page.

Supreme Court law clerks are usually young lawyers, graduates of elite law schools, whom the Justices employ to assist them in evaluating cases brought before the Court, in researching issues, and in drafting memoranda and even formal opinions.  Often Supreme Court law clerks have worked for a lower federal court judge before obtaining a Supreme Court clerkship.  Indeed, Chief Justice Roberts clerked for Judge Henry Friendly of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1979–1980 before clerking for Justice (later Chief Justice) William H. Rehnquist in 1981–1982.  President George W. Bush nominated Roberts to replace Rehnquist following Rehnquist’s death in 2005.  Several of the other current Justices served as Supreme Court law clerks as well.  

In collecting and dealing in Supreme Court autographs since the mid-1980s, we have never seen a book like this—much less one offered on the autograph market.  Our research has not found any similar book ever offered at auction.  The closest item to it that we have seen, which we sold several years ago, was a bound copy of Chief Justice Warren E. Burger’s self-selected most significant opinions as Chief Justice.  That book, however, was published by the Philippine Bar Association, not the Supreme Court.  We have been unable to determine whether the Supreme Court gives books such as this to all of the Justices’ law clerks when their clerkships end, whether this volume may have been a gift from Chief Justice Roberts apart from gifts that other Justices might give their law clerks, or whether the clerk to whom the Chief Justice inscribed and signed this book had it printed himself.  

The book contains the seven opinions that the Chief Justice wrote for Supreme Court majorities during the October 2018 Term.  It also contains his six separate opinions concurring, concurring in part, concurring in part and dissenting in part, and dissenting from majority rulings and one opinion dissenting from a summary disposition.  Finally—information not intended to be made public—it contains two of his unsigned per curiam opinions.

The opinions in this book show that Chief Justice Roberts sided more with the conservatives than the liberals but still held the decisive fifth vote in four cases reprinted here that the Supreme Court decided by 5–4 votes.  The Chief Justice sided with conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh in Rucho v. Common Cause, 139 S. Ct. 2484 (2019), which held that claims of partisan gerrymandering present political questions beyond the jurisdiction of the federal courts; Knick v. Township of Scott, 139 S. Ct. 2162 (2019), which held that one who claims an unlawful taking of property need not exhaust state court remedies before petitioning a federal court for relief; and Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, 139 S. Ct. 1407 (2019), which ruled that an ambiguous arbitration agreement cannot provide the contractual basis for concluding that parties agreed to submit their claims to class arbitration.   The Chief Justice sided with differing 5–4 majorities in Department of Commerce v. New York, 139 S. Ct. 2551 (2019), a politically charged case challenging the use of a citizenship question on the national decennial census.  Joined by the conservatives, Roberts held that the Trump Administration’s decision to use the citizenship question did not violate either Constitution’s Enumeration Clause or the federal Census Act.  But, joined by liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, Roberts upheld the trial court’s decision to enjoin the use of the citizenship question on census forms until the Secretary of Commerce justified his action, holding that there was a “disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given” and that, while the law called for “an explanation of agency action,” the record on which the Secretary sought to justify the citizenship question “was more of a distraction.”

This is a beautiful book in fine condition.  It is bound in tan buckram, and the title is imprinted in gilt on the spine.  The pages are clean and bright, and the binding is tight.  Only the Chief Justice’s inscription and signature and a numerical pencil notation in another hand in an upper corner of the front pastedown keep the book from being “in the same immaculate condition as when it emerged from the bindery,” the definition of a book in very fine condition.  For all intents and purposes, the book could be considered very fine.

Chief Justice Roberts’s reluctance to sign autographs is well known, and his genuinely signed material is scarce, if not rare, in all forms.  Our search of auction records found only two Roberts items, one a signed photograph of the Roberts Court and the other a signed photograph of Chief Justice Roberts with Associate Justice John Paul Stevens taken the day on which Roberts was sworn in as Chief Justice. 

This book, which appears to be an internal Supreme Court publication, inscribed and signed to an insider, is unique on the market.  Collectors of Supreme Court autographs should not let it pass by.



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