WASHINGTON — Chief Justice John Roberts suffered a seizure at his summer home in Maine on Monday, causing a fall that resulted in minor scrapes, Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.
He will remain in a hospital in Maine overnight.
“It’s my understanding he’s fully recovered, said Christopher Burke, a spokesman for Penobscot Bay Medical Center, where Roberts was taken.
Roberts, 52, was taken by ambulance to the medical center, where he underwent a “thorough neurological evaluation, which revealed no cause for concern,” Arberg said in a statement.
Roberts had a similar episode in 1993, she said.
Doctors called Monday’s incident “a benign idiopathic seizure,” Arberg said. The White House described the January 1993 episode as an “isolated, idiosyncratic seizure.” Both descriptions indicate that doctors could not determine the seizure’s cause or link it to another medical condition. For example, doctors would have quickly ruled out simple explanations such as dehydration or low blood sugar.
Roberts, who was named to the court in 2005, has led the Supreme Court to a more conservative stance, along with Justice Samuel Alito, who won confirmation in early 2006. Conservative causes have won twice as often as they lost on the Roberts-led court. The 2006-07 term brought limits on abortion rights, restrictions on school integration programs and greater freedom for political advertising.
Medical opinions differed on just what Roberts’ seizures mean.
Someone who has had more than one seizure without any other cause is determined to have epilepsy, said Dr. Marc Schlosberg, a neurologist at Washington Hospital Center, who is not involved in the Roberts’ case.
‘Conscious and alert’
Whether Roberts will need anti-seizure medications to prevent another is something he and his doctor will have to decide. But after two seizures, the likelihood of another at some point is greater than 60 percent. “When it’s going to occur, obviously nobody knows,” Schlosberg said.
The National Institutes of Health’s Web site says that “only when a person has had two or more seizures is a person considered to have epilepsy.”
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Epilepsy is merely a term for a seizure disorder, but it is a loaded term because it makes people think of lots of seizures, cautioned Dr. Edward Mkrdichian, a neurosurgeon at the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch.
Still, Mkrdichian said anyone who has had two otherwise unexplained seizures is at high risk for a third, and that he puts such patients on anti-seizure medications.
“Having two seizures so many years apart without any known culprit is going to be very difficult to figure out,” agreed Dr. Max Lee of the Milwaukee Neurological Institute.
The incident occurred around 2 p.m. EDT on a dock near the home in Port Clyde on Maine’s Hupper Island. Port Clyde, which is part of the town of St. George, is about 90 miles by car northeast of Portland, midway up the coast of Maine.
Roberts was taken by private boat to the mainland and then transferred to an ambulance, St. George Fire Chief Tim Polky said.
“He was conscious and alert when they put him in the rescue (vehicle),” Polky said.
Named to the court by President Bush in 2005, Roberts is the youngest justice on a court in which the senior member, John Paul Stevens, is 87. Bush was informed of the hospitalization by his chief of staff, Josh Bolten, the White House said.
Roberts is the father of two young children.
Larry Robbins, a Washington attorney who worked with Roberts at the Justice Department in 1993, said he drove Roberts to work for several months after the incident. Robbins said Roberts never mentioned what the problem was and he never heard of it happening again.
In 2001, Roberts described his health as “excellent,” according to Senate Judiciary Committee records.
Roberts became chief justice after the death of William Rehnquist in September 2005, although Bush had first chosen him to take Sandra Day O’Connor’s seat when she announced her retirement earlier that year.
He had served as an appellate judge in Washington and spent more than a decade before that as a lawyer at the Hogan and Hartson law firm, where he specialized in arguing cases before the Supreme Court.
Roberts also served in the Reagan and Bush administrations in the 1980s and ’90s. He was a clerk for Rehnquist after graduating from Harvard Law School.
Roberts spent a couple of weeks in Europe in July, teaching a course in Vienna and attending a conference in Paris. He was at the court in Washington late last week.
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