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Washington-It’s not the Rehnquist Court anymore. Nearly six months into his tenure as chief justice, John G. Roberts Jr. has begun to make his mark on the Supreme Court, fostering a sense of harmony and triggering an outbreak of unanimity among justices unseen in recent years. Without showing any sign of compromising his conservative views, Roberts has nonetheless written three unanimous opinions himself so far and presided over a court that was unanimous in 21 out of 29 signed rulings issued. Just as significant, only six concurring opinions have been written this term-a departure for justices long accustomed to writing separately to express even the slightest disgruntlement with the majority. Inside the court, employees speak of a more accessible chief justice who eats lunch in the public cafeteria from time to time. His fellow justices-of all political stripes-have embraced Roberts, pointing to vastly different private conferences, in which they are able to speak at greater length about pending cases than William H. Rehnquist ever allowed. In recent weeks, Roberts, with an easy, telegenic style, has also stepped up to his public role with a gusto unlike that of his sometimes retiring predecessor. On March 6, Roberts paid homage to retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor at a ceremony sponsored by the National Association of Women Judges, describing himself as the association’s newest member. Two days later, he walked out arm in arm with Nancy Reagan as he made his first major public address as chief justice at the Reagan Library in California. This week, Roberts tackles the other big piece of his job, presiding over his first meeting of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policy-making arm of the federal judiciary. There he may also announce his replacement for Leonidas Ralph Mecham, the longtime director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Roberts’ choice for director, who serves at the pleasure of the chief justice, faces the task of repairing testy relationships between the federal courts and Congress. The earlier, the easier? This early in the term it is hard to discern whether Roberts’ initial successes result from his colleagues giving him something of a honeymoon, or whether they are feeling a sense of solidarity after a difficult year dealing with Rehnquist’s ill health and death, as well as the rough spectacle of the confirmation process for both Roberts and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Then, too, the cases that are decided early in the term are sometimes the easiest and are less prone to attract dissents. But none of those factors seem to explain fully the increased harmony on the court, suggesting instead that Roberts is working hard to achieve it, as he promised to do during his confirmation hearings. In a talk before University of Alabama law students last week, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said, “Whether unconsciously or not, people are trying to get more agreement.” Breyer said the atmosphere at the court is “a little more relaxed,” and added, according to the Associated Press, “If we are being a little more unanimous, it’s a good sign.” Roy Englert Jr. of Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck & Untereiner doubts that other justices are folding their cards and softening strongly held views just to give Roberts a honeymoon. Rather, he guesses that as a recent advocate in private practice and as a former appeals court judge, Roberts can persuade justices not to write separately so often. “He can discuss with them what their handiwork means to those who must apply it-both practicing lawyers and lower courts. So he can say that there are some consequences of frequent dissents and concurrences.” Not everyone is ready to hail the new mood at the court. “There’s no question that he is charming and gracious,” said Elliot Mincberg, legal director of People For the American Way, which opposed Roberts’ confirmation and has joined several high court cases on the losing side. “But it’s still early, and there are a lot of divisive issues ahead that the current era of good feeling can’t overcome.” For example, Mincberg finds it hard to see the court achieving unanimity on the Texas redistricting cases this term or the “partial birth” abortion case next term.

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