Wearing a dark gray suit, white shirt and light blue tie, John G. Roberts Jr. was posing for pictures in the office of Sen. Ron Wyden last week. Asked how he was spending his time in the days before the Senate hearings for his Supreme Court nomination, Roberts caused a bit of a stir.
"I'm trying to get ready for the hearings," he said.
That he uttered even a syllable was surprising, considering he is absolutely not supposed to be speaking to the media. Being a U.S. Supreme Court nominee especially means never having to say anything in public, at least until the confirmation hearings begin Sept. 6.
Buttonholed in a Dirksen Building elevator after spending nearly an hour in a private meeting with Wyden, however, he lived up to his reputation for keeping his cool. A reporter had jumped into the elevator alongside him, an aide and former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson, who had been asked by the Bush administration to help maneuver Roberts through the confirmation process.
So tell me again, judge, how you're spending your time before the hearings?
"I'm studying binders and binders" of material, he said.
"I'm working sometimes at the court and sometimes at home," he continued. Then he joked with a uniformed officer who was also on the elevator. "I thought you were supposed to protect me from things like this." The officer just smiled.
It was the end of the day in a building so deserted that a woman in heels didn't walk down the hall as much as rumble her way past. Roberts had just spent nearly an hour with Wyden, discussing issues ranging from the Terri Schiavo case to Roe v. Wade, Wyden later told reporters. It was Roberts's 45th such meeting. By the end of last week he had clocked 48 meetings with senators, the White House said.
Meetings and studying cases is how he's spending most of his time -- and trying to keep up with his kids, those around him say. Other than that, not much in the routine has changed -- including church on Sunday.
"He continues to have breakfast with his children and wife," said Dana M. Perino, a White House deputy press secretary. "They have dinner together as a family. . . . And he reads to [his children] each night before they go to sleep." She had just spoken to Jane Roberts at work, Perino said.
"When John's not working right now, his life is no different than it was two months ago: Everything revolves around the children," said Richard J. Lazarus, a Georgetown law professor who is Roberts's former Capitol Hill roommate and a close friend.
A few weeks before the nomination in mid-June, Lazarus said, Roberts took his two children, Jack, 4, and Josie, 5, on a camping trip with other neighbors. Lazarus and Roberts also took in a Washington Nationals baseball game. It was a rare treat for the two of them, he says.
"He is a 50-year-old father with these two young kids. John's life really changed five years ago," said Lazarus. "He used to play golf a lot. All that stuff really stopped when he became a father. And unlike the rest of us who became a father when we were 32, 36, 37 -- he and Jane became parents in their mid-forties."
"I get the sense that he's getting up earlier and going to bed a little later" these days, he added.
There have been recent sightings of Roberts at the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse, on Constitution Avenue, which houses the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where Roberts has sat on the bench for two years.
Following orders not to speak with media, his secretary would not comment on the judge's routine, but security guards and cafeteria workers say they've seen Roberts around lately.
"Sure, I see him," said one guard, seemingly a little surprised at the question. "I saw him in the cafeteria recently. He eats like everyone else does."
Said another guard, "He's one of the nicest judges we've got. . . . He's been groomed since birth for this job he's up for, and I think he's going to get it."
The cafeteria is in the basement of Prettyman, a room with about 30 white tabletops, neatly arranged red chairs and dark gray carpeting. A small sign on the door warns against taking trays from the dining area. Wednesday morning about 10, Judge Janice Rogers Brown, fresh from her own controversial confirmation process for a seat on the D.C. Circuit Court, was one of the few trickling in to grab breakfast. "I'm just glad it's over," she said, then hurried on her way.
Milagro Martinez, 28, has worked in the cafeteria for two years. With a co-worker translating for her, she said she sees him on occasion. "Not all the time, but sometimes." He orders a bagel and cream cheese or an omelet, she said. "He's polite."
As he stepped out of the Dirksen Building Tuesday, Roberts listened as a reporter continued firing questions. Finally, Thompson intervened.
"You're going to get the judge in trouble," Thompson said. "He's not supposed to be talking."
Roberts said, smiling, "I think he just told me I'm not supposed to be talking."
As they waited for a red light to change at First and C streets NE, a few Capitol Hill workers leaving their offices greeted the nominee. "Good luck," said one man, shaking Roberts's hand.
There was no traffic in sight, which made the red light seem to go on forever.
Roberts decided he had one last comment.
"Notice," he joked, "I'm obeying the law."