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Reporter's notebook: Fun with Dick and Jane -- and John

By Bill Mears
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- See Chief Justice John Roberts dressed as Groucho Marx. See Roberts cook Mickey Mouse waffles for his wife and children.

It's an image Roberts has encouraged in a new biography aimed at children. "John G. Roberts, Jr.: Chief Justice," from Lerner Publications, focuses on the personal and family life of the 51-year-old jurist.

Author Lisa Tucker McElroy told CNN the book was designed for youngsters in grades 4 through 8.

"What I try to do is to turn the person into a whole person, not just a judge," she said. "This is somebody who is an interesting person who happens to have also an interesting and important job."

Roberts has rarely spoken with the media in his first year on the high court, but he gave extended interviews to McElroy and passed on personal photos for the 48-page-book.

McElroy, who also is an assistant professor of law and dean of skills training at Southern New England School of Law, acknowledges her unusual access to Roberts came because of a non-controversial approach.

So we learn much about Roberts' routines at work and home. There are tender moments and deeply personal accounts that are unusual for a Supreme Court justice to reveal.

For example, McElroy details the difficulties John and Jane Roberts encountered in adopting a child.

"Even though the Roberts qualified early on to adopt a child, there were several disappointments," the book states.

The book is on sale at the Supreme Court's gift shop and soon will be available to schools and the general public.

Where the boys are

"I have been all alone in my corner on the bench" since Sandra Day O'Connor retired from the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently told an audience in Montreal. The prospect of getting any female colleagues, she added, doesn't look promising.

In the upcoming term, only seven women will serve as clerks to the justices, compared with 30 men. That is down from last term's 16 female clerks.

The numbers are causing a stir in legal circles and various law-related blogs. An original posting in July on the widely read Web site The Volokh Conspiracy asked, "Why so few women Supreme Court clerks?" and quickly received 141 responses.

Supreme Court law clerks work behind the scenes, helping their bosses prepare for arguments, draft opinions, and decide which appeals to accept for review. They are paid $63,335 for their 12 months of service, which can lead to well-paid positions in private law firms. Roberts, Breyer and John Paul Stevens all were Supreme Court clerks while in their 20s.

The individual justices do their own hiring of up to four clerks. Records provided by the court show two of Ginsburg's four clerks are women. Stephen Breyer is the only other justice with two women this term and, in fact, has hired 15 women as clerks since 2000.

Justices Antonin Scalia, David Souter, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito have only male clerks this term.

Ginsburg was highly recommended for a position by her former Harvard Law School dean in 1960, but liberal Justice Felix Frankfurter rejected her application.

The color purple

As the newest justice, Samuel Alito acknowledges a learning curve on the job and also that he has received a bit of good-natured "hazing" from his colleagues.

In his first extended interview since joining the bench in January, Alito recently told the Newark, New Jersey-based Star-Ledger newspaper that fellow Justice Antonin Scalia kidded him early on about an unusual purple swatch on his judicial robe.

Alito brought the robe with him from his many years as a federal appeals court judge. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who sits next to Alito on the bench, quickly defended her colleague, saying he could wear what he wanted.

"There actually is a purple band or something," Alito said in the interview. "I don't know what you would call it. I never noticed it. Fifteen years of wearing it, I never noticed it."

Alito, 56, recalled that he got busy on his first official day as the 110th justice on the high court. After his swearing-in and lunch with his new benchmates, Alito was immediately confronted with urgent business: a request for a stay of execution in Missouri, just hours away.

"It was not really what I wanted to do on my first half-day," he told the Star-Ledger. "The months before [during the confirmation process] were unlike anything I had ever experienced. I wasn't really a judge for most of that time. So I had to say, 'OK, now you're a judge again. Shift back into that gear.' So that's what I did and just tried to grapple with it as best as I could."

Chief Justice John Roberts' silly side is on display in a biographical book for schoolchildren.



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