Chief Justice Roberts Visits UK Campus, Attends Kentucky-Georgia Game At Rupp Arena


John G. Roberts Jr., Chief Justice of the United States, took a break from his U.S. Supreme Court duties and visited Lexington this week.

Roberts (pictured) attended the Kentucky-Georgia basketball game on Tuesday night, and spoke and met with UK College of Law students as well as judges, attorneys and clerks from the state of Kentucky on Wednesday. He came to the campus 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.”

Roberts and James C. Duff, a former UK basketball player who is the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, spoke to a large audience in the Kincaid Auditorium located in the Gatton College of Business and Economics. Their conversation followed a Judicial Courage 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. Preceding the event, the chief justice also met with a small group of UK law students.


Duff (pictured) also attended Tuesday night's game with Roberts. Duff played for one of UK’s most famous basketball teams in history — the 1971-72 freshman squad which posted a perfect 22-0 mark and was named the top freshman team in the country by the Basketball News.

Duff's parents were from Owsley County. His father, Cecil Duff, who had been the basketball coach at Owsley County High School, often took him to UK games in Lexington, driving from Hamilton, Ohio (near Cincinnati) where the family lived.

Click here for Jamie Vaught's 2016 column about Duff in Lexington's KyForward.com and other outlets in Kentucky.

Roberts, who was born in Buffalo, N.Y. in 1955, and his wife, Jane Marie Sullivan, 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.

Roberts 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 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.

Much of the information for this story came from an article that was written by Whitney Harder of UK Now (University of Kentucky News).

Photo of Roberts (UK Now)

Photo of Duff (provided)