The Martyrdom of John Roberts


John Roberts came from a socially prominent and financially comfortable family. He attended what many considered the most prestigious university in the country before going to law school. An expert advocate, he engaged in vigorous debate about legal matters with the chief justice of the highest court in the land.

But this John Roberts was never nominated to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Instead, he was hanged, drawn, and quartered on December 10, 1610, convicted of the capital offense of being a Catholic priest. He was the son of a gentleman, not of a steel plant manager. He studied at Oxford and the London Inns of Court, not Harvard. And the legal debate he conducted with Lord Chief Justice Edward Coke was in Newgate Prison, where Roberts was on trial for his faith, and for his life. He admitted to being a priest and a Benedictine monk, but denied the charge that he had deceived the English people.

In 1970, John Roberts was canonized by Pope Paul VI as one of the Catholic martyrs of England and Wales. Superficial impressions suggest that Supreme Court nominee John Roberts is anything but a candidate for martyrdom. Instead, some people, including some on the Religious Right, suspect he is an ambitious careerist. This suspicion is fueled by the impression that he has been remarkably reticent about his jurisprudential convictions. By all accounts, his legal work has been careful and measured. His...

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About the Author

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.