President-elect Barack Obama paid a visit Wednesday to the Supreme Court and chatted in front of a fireplace with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., a fellow Harvard law graduate whose confirmation he opposed three years ago.
The two will meet again at noon Tuesday, when the chief justice gives the oath of the office to the incoming president.
Wednesday’s meeting was described as a relaxed, get-acquainted session. It included Roberts, seven associate justices and Vice President-elect Joe Biden.
The absence of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who was at the court Wednesday morning for arguments in two cases, was a mystery. He has, however, voiced lingering anger over Senate Democrats, including Obama and Biden, who voted against his confirmation three years ago. When walking on Capitol Hill, Alito has said, he crosses to the far side of the street whenever he nears the Senate Office Building.
Twice in recent decades, incoming presidents have paid a pre-inaugural visit to the court. President Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush did so in 1981, and President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore in 1992. Clinton was an hour late and kept then-Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist waiting.
Obama, however, was on time for his 3:45 p.m. meeting.
No such visit was arranged for President Bush in 2001. Since the Supreme Court had cleared the way for Bush’s victory a few weeks earlier in a 5-4 ruling, a friendly visit was seen as awkward.
Last month Roberts wrote Obama and extended an invitation. Noting the past visits, he said, “The associate justices and I would be pleased to see that sporadic practice become a congenial tradition.”
When Roberts was seeking confirmation in September 2005, he met privately with Obama, who was then the junior senator from Illinois.
The next day, Obama voted against his confirmation, though he said he did so reluctantly.