Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. was in an expansive mood in Indianapolis Wednesday as he answered audience questions after giving the James P. White Lecture at the Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis. The lecture is named for the all-powerful longtime American Bar Association consultant on legal education. Roberts was in familiar surroundings, having grown up in Indiana, and he exuded collegiality and confidence, offering nice things to say about Justice John Paul Stevens (as a fellow Midwesterner) and Justice Sonia Sotomayor (for her valued experience as a former trial judge) and, well, at least nothing negative to say about President Barack Obama.

Asked about his relationship with the two presidents he has served with, George W. Bush and Obama, Roberts said that whenever he has sat with either of them at official events, both he and the president were aware of all they couldn’t talk about to each other, so they found safe topics of conversation — baseball with Bush, and raising young kids with Obama. Somewhat bluntly, Robert said justices don’t have much loyalty toward the president who appointed them, and don’t spend time thinking about how their president would want them to rule in a certain case. After all, he said, justices are there for life. As for presidents? “They’re gone.”

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