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February 1, 2017
By Whitney Harder

University of Kentucky College of Law students as well as judges, lawyers and clerks from across Kentucky were provided an extraordinary opportunity on February 1, as the Hon. John G. Roberts Jr., Chief Justice of the United States, visited the UK campus.

Chief Justice Roberts was here as the first speaker for the newly established John G. Heyburn II Initiative for Excellence in the Federal Judiciary.

“It is both an honor and a privilege to welcome the Hon. Chief Justice Roberts as the first speaker in the John G. Heyburn II Lecture Series,” said David A. Brennen, dean of the College of Law. “The inaugural Heyburn Initiative event marks the beginning of countless opportunities for our students to hear firsthand from some of our nation’s leaders in law, including other distinguished members of the judiciary and lawmakers, and helps UK Law continue its tradition of excellence.”

The chief justice spoke to a large audience in the Kincaid Auditorium located in the Gatton College of Business and Economics. He began with a tribute to the 11 Supreme Court justices who came from Kentucky and then shared an inside look at the nation’s highest court through a Q&A with James C. Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and former UK basketball player.

Director Duff asked the chief justice a myriad of questions including, “How do you encourage collegiality and how important is it to the work of the court?”

“It is critically important,” answered Chief Justice Roberts. “When you think about it, if you pick nine people at random, if you throw them all together and say that for the next 20 years, you’re going to decide some of the most important issues ever to face the country, you immediately realize that you have got to find a way to get along, or else it’s going to be a long 20 years.”

Chief Justice Roberts was born in Buffalo, New York, Jan. 27, 1955. He married Jane Marie Sullivan in 1996 and they have two children — Josephine and Jack. He received his bachelor's degree from Harvard College in 1976 and a juris doctor from Harvard Law School in 1979. He served as a law clerk for Judge Henry J. Friendly of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1979–1980 and as a law clerk for then-Associate Justice William H. Rehnquist of the Supreme Court of the United States during the 1980 term.

He was special assistant to the attorney general, U.S. Department of Justice from 1981–1982; associate counsel to President Ronald Reagan, White House Counsel’s Office from 1982–1986; and principal deputy solicitor general, U.S. Department of Justice from 1989–1993. From 1986–1989 and 1993–2003, he practiced law in Washington, D.C. He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2003.

President George W. Bush nominated him as chief justice of the United States, and he took his seat Sept. 29, 2005.

The conversation followed a conference panel, featuring University of Michigan Professor Pamela Brandwein, Federal Judicial Center Director Jeremy Fogel and Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Carl E. Stewart. The panel also brought inspiration to the audience through a discussion about the history and judicial courage of numerous judges. Similar to the chief justice, they highlighted the importance of collegiality as it relates to the work of the court.

“One of the hallmarks of being a federal judge is collegiality,” said Chief Judge Stewart. “So much of what we do is girted by the fact that very smart people, men and women, may disagree about legal principals, but it’s the collegiality that really allows the rule of law to work.”

Preceding the event, the chief justice met with a small group of UK law students.

The Heyburn Initiative, a national, nonpartisan federal judicial initiative, was announced in October 2016 by President Eli Capilouto, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Dr. Martha K. Heyburn. In partnership with the UK College of Law and UK Libraries, the initiative established a national lecture series on relevant judicial topics and is launching an archives and oral history program for Kentucky’s federal judges.

Based on the recommendation of Sen. McConnell, President George H.W. Bush appointed Judge Heyburn to the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky in 1992. He served as chief judge in the Western District of Kentucky from 2001 to 2008.

"The John G. Heyburn Initiative for Judicial Excellence is a perfect tribute to my friend," Sen. McConnell said in October. "John was kind, he was thoughtful, he was principled — and the Heyburn Initiative will remind us that these virtues count both on the bench and in life. Dedicated to the preservation and study of judicial history in Kentucky, I look forward to the Heyburn Initiative becoming an integral part of Kentucky’s judicial community and a national focal point and destination for all students of our legal system."

For more information about the John G. Heyburn II Initiative for Excellence in the Federal Judiciary, visit