Chief Judge Roger Gregory of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit this week wrote his second majority opinion upholding the block on President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
Gregory led a 9-3 court affirming a lower court’s injunction. He authored the majority opinion, which said the policy was tainted by animus toward Muslims. Gregory wrote a similar opinion last May, when the Fourth Circuit, again sitting en banc, upheld the same lower court’s injunction against the March 6 travel ban executive order.
“On a fundamental level, the Proclamation second-guesses our nation’s dedication to religious freedom and tolerance,” Gregory wrote in the latest decision.
The decision is the latest in a string of monumental opinions authored by the court’s chief judge, including King v. Burwell, which upheld the legality of Affordable Care Act subsidies, and he was in the majority on Bostic v. Schaefer, which struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.
Gregory became chief judge of the Fourth Circuit in 2016. At the time, he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that although the job was “daunting,” he believed it was important to “stand up and take my turn.”
“As President Truman said, ‘The difficulty about making a decision, wasn’t the decision. The difficulty was not knowing all that time that you’re right,’” Gregory said. “We have some incredible cases.”
Pro-tip: Maybe start citing the preamble of the Constitution. Gregory’s a big fan. “I love the preamble to the Constitution. You know, no lawyers ever cite the preamble. They never do. They find the articles and the sections. But the preamble is a part of the Constitution. It starts it. It’s powerful,” Gregory said in remarks last year at the North Carolina Bar Association’s annual meeting. “What it said, after formation, in order to form a more perfect union, we intend to establish first justice. Before provide for the common welfare, and the defense, and happiness and all of those things, the first mandate of our Constitution is to establish justice. I don’t know why people think that’s an outlier.”
Here’s some advice for young law students. Gregory in 2003 advised students that “intellect is fine, but without a passionate love for constitutional liberty it is without benefit.” And he offered this guidance last year: “The purpose of standing on broad shoulders is not to be seen. Instead, it is to see. To see out on the horizon that you might help some young woman or man or boy or girl see the potholes and pitfalls that you have been over. You might say, no, you might want to go another way, you want to rethink that.”
Yes, Gregory writes opinions for a living—but on the side he’s a playwright. Gregory is the artistic director of the drama ministry at Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Petersburg, Virginia. “I love it. Theater is fun, a lot of fun,” he once said. Gregory reportedly played the role of Rev. Sykes in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the Virginia Repertory Theatre. “I was Rev. Sykes, who delivered my favorite line,” Gregory told the Times-Dispatch. Sykes tells Atticus Finch’s daughter, as the lawyer is leaving court: “Stand up, Scout, your father’s passing,” Gregory told the newspaper.
Gregory founded his own firm—with a former Virginia governor. Gregory came to the bench after years in private practice. He first worked for the Detroit firm Butzel, Long, Gust, Klein & Van Zile following his graduation from the University of Michigan law school in 1978. Later, he moved to Richmond and worked at Hunton & Williams. In 1982, he and L. Douglas Wilder, a former Virginia governor, created the firm of Wilder & Gregory. The firm is now the minority-owned Harrell & Chambliss.
And then he was appointed by two presidents. Gregory, appointed by President Bill Clinton in 2000, was the first African-American judge to sit on the Fourth Circuit. The Republican majority in the Senate refused to confirm him, so Clinton appointed Gregory while the Senate was in recess, bypassing confirmation until the end of the next session of Congress. President George W. Bush renominated Gregory the next year as his first nominee to the Fourth Circuit. Gregory recorded this video in 2012 about his path to the bench.