Life with Chief Justice Roberts



Jane Sullivan Roberts, 54, is one of those rare Washington women who won’t let her husband’s achievements overshadow her. When your husband is John Roberts, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, that’s quite a trick, but it is one Jane Roberts pulls off with verve and panache.

She’s a terrific lawyer in her own right, and right now is one of the top recruiters with Major Lindsay and Africa, one of the major legal recruitment firms in the capital.

You get some sense of the intellect of the woman by looking at her biography. It states in part, “Prior to joining MLA, Jane was the Executive Partner for Talent Development at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. Before assuming this role, she was a partner in the firm’s Global Technology Group focusing on IT sourcing and procurement of satellite systems.

“Jane also practiced litigation at Shaw Pittman and Dorsey & Whitney in a wide variety of matters before various courts and decision-making bodies. In 1992, Ms. Roberts litigated before Australian courts with then Arthur Robinson & Hedderwicks, a leading law firm in Australia. Jane also clerked for the Honorable James M. Sprouse, Federal Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, during the 1984-85 Term. Before entering the legal profession, she taught mathematics at the high-school and college levels and was a Systems Engineer at Bell Laboratories.”


In addition, she’s busy raising her two children Josephine and Jack, both nine year olds this year, which she says is the ultimate grounding experience for her and her husband.

Ireland is part of that grounding too, and when we met in her Washington office she was busy planning her upcoming trip to Ireland where she and her husband will be staying in the little Irish cottage they part own in Knocklong County Limerick not far from her mother’s home place in Charleville on the Limerick/Cork border.

Jane’s husband John is eager for the trip as well. “He loves it. The way to his heart was through the golf. So our first trip, there was a lot of golfing, and he really enjoyed it. And last summer we didn’t get any golfing, and we hiked the Glen of Aherlow; there are many things to do there, it’s fabulous. We came to Ireland from Austria, and we did hiking there, but the hiking in Ireland is wilder; there’s hardly anybody out there, and it’s just us and the sheep. It was fabulous, great to get away.”

Hiking in the Irish mountainside, staying in a small lrish cottage, visiting with the locals and dancing at local festivals – that is the Roberts itinerary. It sounds like an idyllic trip and one that Jane was clearly looking forward to – no limousines or major receptions, just family and friends.

It is clear there are no airs and graces about Jane Roberts or her husband. When her husband was appointed by President Bush many of the profiles referred to her lack of pretentiousness, driving around in an old Volkswagen, making no effort to be noticed or with the in crowd.

There was a light moment after President Bush made his announcement on national television that John Roberts would be the next Supreme Court justice in July 2005. Their five-year-old son Jack impishly took over proceedings and commenced dancing away under klieg lights to his heart’s content. Jane Roberts confesses to being mortified at first but later laughing about her free-spirited son.

On another occasion at the White House when John Roberts as new Chief Justice was introducing his family to the president, Jane’s mother had wandered off somewhere to look at the White House treasures and kept the president waiting. Jane laughs at the memory, “Only in America,” she says.

She recalls just one occasion when she was suddenly struck with a sense of awe – at a dinner for Queen Elizabeth, when the sight of her husband sitting beside the monarch momentarily made her realize what they had accomplished together.

Perhaps she is grounded because nothing got handed easily to Jane Sullivan Roberts, a fact that becomes apparent when you speak with her. A child of Irish parents, from the Bronx, she grew up in modest circumstances.

She remembers well the rooms set aside in her apartment for the use of the greenhorns over from Ireland, of whom her mother was once one.

When she was growing up the sights and sounds of Ireland were never far from her mind. Irish dancing and music classes gave her a grounding in her heritage, and her parents’ strong Catholicism and sense of duty stayed with her all her life.

There was also the famous relative – Eugene O’Neill, no less – to brag about. “We have a letter from O’Neill who described a relationship, I can’t remember exactly, but he knew exactly what it was. We were always proud of that,” she says.