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At the helm, Roberts keeps tabs on time

Associated Press
Published October 4, 2005


WASHINGTON - Chief Justice John Roberts set a no-nonsense tone on his first day on the bench, taking a page from his mentor, William H. Rehnquist. There were blunt questions and sharp attention to the time clock.

The nation's 17th chief justice was given a ceremonial oath then took his place in the seat that Rehnquist held for nearly two decades. It was a smooth transition.

"We know him well, and he has already earned our respect and admiration," Justice John Paul Stevens said before the court opened its new term.

Roberts, who made a career as a Supreme Court lawyer, appeared at home on the other side of the bench. At one point he sounded exasperated with a lawyer, snapping, "That's my question." He told another veteran attorney, with a skeptical tone, that the lawyer was suggesting that the court invent a new concept.

And Roberts cut off former Solicitor General Theodore Olson in midsentence, when his time expired in a gasoline-tax case. Rehnquist, who died last month, was well known for his timekeeping.

Roberts, 50, was deferential to his colleagues, who are all older. Before asking his first question on Monday, he let six other justices pose queries first, deferring when someone else spoke at the same time.