On Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist's Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia has been the acknowledged intellectual leader of the conservative bloc, a brilliant writer and legal thinker with many followers in legal academia.
Yet when it came time to replace Rehnquist as chief justice, President Bush did not tap Scalia, 69, as some conservatives had hoped. Rather, he reached outside the court and selected John G. Roberts Jr.
Roberts, 50, is not only younger than Scalia, but also mellower, a former law clerk of the easygoing Rehnquist. Roberts became known for his astute political judgments in the Reagan administration and his cordial personal relations with many liberal attorneys during his years as a Supreme Court advocate. In a role in which he will have few means of forging majorities other than persuasion and tact, that could make Roberts an effective force for conservatism on the court.
"A committed conservative with interpersonal skills equal to or superior to Rehnquist's would be a far more effective chief justice than a nominee of equal intellect who lacks those graces," said David J. Garrow, a professor of law at Emory University.
Historians have often labeled different eras at the court for the chief justice who presided at the time. Yet whereas the chief justice runs oral argument and closed-door conferences, he has only one vote and few formal means of control over the court. Rehnquist himself once likened leading the Supreme Court's eight associate justices to controlling "hogs on ice." The court's nominal boss, he said, "may at most persuade or cajole" his independent-minded colleagues.
Thus, the Warren Court's jurisprudence probably owed as much to the thinking and interpersonal skills of Justice William J. Brennan Jr. as it did to the ideas of Chief Justice Earl Warren. Sandra Day O'Connor, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan who often found herself unable to agree with Scalia, was the controlling force of the Rehnquist Court.
Probably the chief justice's principal power is the right to assign the writing of opinions for the court when he is in the majority. Rehnquist was known for the fairness with which he distributed opinions among the associates -- especially in contrast to his predecessor, Warren E. Burger, who often generated ill will by manipulating the process.
Rehnquist also prevented the court's conferences from turning into prolonged debates, which had often led to delays and personal feuding at the court earlier in the 20th century.
Instead, Rehnquist's policy was that every justice would speak at least once, to announce his or her vote and view of the case, before anyone would be allowed to raise an objection.
The Burger period was a time of notorious internal bickering at the court, which Roberts saw first-hand as a law clerk for Rehnquist -- then an associate justice -- during the 1980-1981 term.
As chief justice, Rehnquist would sometimes join a majority he probably did not agree with, so as to reserve the opinion-writing for himself and thus limit the damage to his own legal preferences. But he would also take his share of less-glamorous assignments, such as tax and Indian law cases.
As a young aide in the Reagan administration, Roberts was an advocate of conservative policy positions -- but also a keen student of politics and the media who frequently counseled his superiors how to achieve their objectives without ruffling feathers.
In an Aug. 31, 1982, White House memo, Roberts advised his bosses on relations between the executive branch and the Supreme Court. The document showed great solicitude for the sometimes prickly sensibilities of the justices.
"Any effort to improve relations between the Executive Branch and the members of the Supreme Court must be undertaken with extreme care to ensure that there is no appearance of an effort to affect the deliberations or decisions of the Justices," Roberts wrote. "The dignity of the Court must also be maintained, and the Justices should under no circumstances be made to feel that they are being used as part of any political campaign or an effort to achieve any political end."
In inviting justices to state dinners, Roberts counseled, "no favoritism should be shown based on the Justice's individual views."
If confirmed by the Senate, Roberts, 50, would be the youngest chief justice since John Marshall took office at the age of 45 in 1801; he would also be taking the helm of a group that has been together for the last 11 years and has known no other chief justice during that time.
Yet few expect either Roberts's age or his newness on the court to be liabilities. That is because he is already so familiar to the current justices, both from his 39 oral arguments before them, and from socializing outside the courtroom.
"He probably knows them as judges and as people better than all but a few other people," said David G. Leitch, a former associate White House counsel in the Bush administration who also served as a law clerk to Rehnquist.
As chief justice, Roberts would also serve as head of the Judicial Conference, which makes policy on behalf of the entire federal judiciary. In this role, Roberts will be expected to represent all federal courts in their efforts to win budget funding and salary increases from Congress, as well as to fend off threats to the judicial branch's independence that might come from the legislative or the executive branch.
There is even a cultural side to the post as chief justice. If confirmed, Roberts would, by law, serve on the boards of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Justice Antonin Scalia: Some on right wanted him as chief justice.