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Academic prowess built on hard work

Charles Davidow served with John G. Roberts Jr. on the Harvard Law Review and later spent a year living in New York City with the future Supreme Court nominee when the two worked as clerks to judges on the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

In all the time the two lawyers have spent together -- they have remained friends since they graduated from Harvard Law School in 1979 -- Davidow said, he has seen nothing about Roberts that would brand him as a sharp ideologue or someone who devoted much time to thinking about politics.

''He's about as straight-laced as they come, a pretty bland guy, really," said Davidow, a self-described political independent who is a partner for the law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr in Washington. ''He wasn't into partying, drinking, or drugs. I'll be very surprised if you can find people who have stories of him wearing a lampshade on his head."

Roberts moved to Cambridge in 1973 to attend Harvard College, where he majored in history. He graduated in three years, summa cum laude, after writing his senior thesis on British liberalism in the early 20th century, a former history tutor of his said.

The tutor, William P. LaPiana of New York, who was Roberts's pre-law adviser when the two lived at the college's Leverett House, remembers the young man as an earnest, hard-working student who also knew how to laugh at himself.

LaPiana recalled Roberts walking into his office one day after receiving a particularly good grade and complimentary comments on a paper for a course in American intellectual history.

''Jokingly, he said: 'Maybe I can get my head through the door now,' " LaPiana said. ''He meant that it was something that could go to his head, but that he wouldn't let it."

Asked if he recalls whether Roberts had notable political convictions or other strong opinions, LaPiana said: ''Nothing stands out."

After receiving his undergraduate degree, Roberts attended Harvard Law School, where he rose to the prestigious position of managing editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Paul K. Rowe, a New York lawyer who also served on the Law Review with Roberts, recalls how the future judge spent long hours assigning and editing articles. But like others who went to law school with Roberts, Rowe doesn't recall much about the nominee's politics.

''I was unaware of any political ambitions," he said. ''I think he's a person of integrity and scholarly depth . . . who was serious without being solemn. He was an extremely well-rounded, mature individual."

Another editor on the Law Review, who knew Roberts well but asked not to be named, said the Buffalo native often worked 80 hours a week at the Law Review.

The colleague said he also couldn't remember anything about Roberts's political positions, but he described him as ''a highly qualified, analytical writer."

''You don't end up in that position without a good deal of talent," he said.

Davidow, who still gets together with his old law school friend every few months, said Roberts wasn't a particularly neat roommate, even though he described him as ''cautious, clean-cut, upright."

When pressed about Roberts's political views or judicial philosophy, Davidow said: ''I don't associate him with a strong political view.

''He was personally conservative -- just a straight sort of guy."

David Abel can be reached at

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John G. Roberts Jr. graduated from Harvard College and law school.
John G. Roberts Jr. graduated from Harvard College and law school.
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