Supreme Court Nominee Grew Up In Northwestern Indiana

(LAPORTE, Ind.) -- Teachers at LaLumiere School often remind their students of the successful graduates who have passed through the college prep academy's halls. That list includes U.S. Supreme Court justice nominee John G. Roberts Jr.

Roberts, 50, graduated in 1973 at the top of his class of 22 students at the northwestern Indiana Roman Catholic boarding school, which enrolls an average of 120 students. Although his home was close by, Roberts lived at the school, said headmaster Michael Kennedy.

Roberts was co-captain of the football team, coeditor of the newspaper, on the executive committee of the student council and participated in several other academic, social and athletic clubs at the school in LaPorte, 25 miles west of South Bend.

"It's an incredible honor and experience for the school," Kennedy said of Roberts' nomination, announced by President Bush Tuesday evening.

If confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, Roberts would succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has long been a swing vote on a court divided narrowly on issues such as abortion, affirmative action, states' rights and the death penalty.

Indiana University law professor Craig Bradley said he has gotten to know Roberts over the years, as both men clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist at separate times.

"He's a very nice guy, very personable," he said. "He's a very able guy, and he's very well-liked. I don't think he'll prove to be a real right-wing ideologue."

When Roberts was 8 or 9 years old, he and his family moved to Long Beach, 10 miles east of Gary, from Buffalo, N.Y., where he was born. His father, an electrical engineer, was an executive with nearby Bethlehem Steel, and one of his three sisters still lives in Indiana, said Bethany Rowe, spokeswoman for the Indiana Republican Party. Bush said that Roberts used to work summers at the mill in Burns Harbor.

After Roberts left for Harvard University, his father was transferred to Baltimore and his two other sisters still live in Maryland, said Shannen Coffin, a Washington lawyer who has worked with Roberts.

Carey Dowdle, who graduated from LaLumiere a year after Roberts in 1974, said the school was a place where the boys dressed in ties and coats for class and dinner.

The 120 students came from as far away as California and North Carolina, and Dowdle said it was a mix of boys that ranged from those had been kicked out of their previous high schools to those like Roberts who excelled in school.

"He was a quiet leader; he was a great wrestler. I played team sports and so I know that wrestling was an individual sport and he thrived in this sport where it was strictly his talent against somebody else's," said Dowdle, a mortgage company owner from Northbrook, Ill.

Before going to LaLumiere, Roberts attended Notre Dame Catholic grade school in Michigan City where Betsy Swan was his classmate.

"We would have our own little spelling bees, and we would be lined up at the chalkboard. A few of us thought we were pretty good. But we knew if John Roberts was there, he would win hands-down," Swan of Crown Point recalled Tuesday.

"You could tell he was going to be something someday, but he wasn't over the top. He was as normal as any one of us. He was just a very easy person to talk to."

Indianapolis attorney Peter Rusthoven knew Roberts much later when they were both associate White House counselors under President Reagan in the early 1980s. Rusthoven said he gets together with Roberts from time to time, sometimes with a game of golf.

"John is very smart, good-humored, principled, a superb lawyer," Rusthoven said Tuesday.

He added that he believed Roberts was "extraordinarily well-qualified to serve on the Supreme Court."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)