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Easygoing Roberts braces for confirmation fight

The country learned more Wednesday about John Roberts,  someone well-known up until now only in Washington legal circles. NBC's Pete Williams profiles the Supreme Court nominee.

No black limousine for John Roberts on his first day as a Supreme Court nominee. He drove his Chrysler PT Cruiser to the White House for morning coffee with President Bush. Those who know him say he's always had that easygoing style — growing up in Indiana, near Chicago as the son of a steel mill executive and working at that steel mill in the summer.

He was also captain of the football team at an all-boys Catholic school, where he excelled academically.

"John was just the kind of student that, he just ate everything that you gave him," recalls former teacher Lawrence Sullivan.

He met his wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, on a blind date. She's a Washington lawyer and a former board member of Feminists for Life, a group that counsels against abortion and pushes for the legal rights of mothers.

It's Roberts' own views on abortion that Democrats will pursue. As a lawyer in the first Bush administration, Roberts helped file a brief in the Supreme Court in a 1990 abortion case. It said "Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled."

But at his confirmation hearing two years ago for a federal appeals court judgeship, he said he was representing his client — the government — and that he saw it otherwise.

"Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land," Roberts said in April 2003. "There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent."

But women's groups want senators to press him further.

"And if he cannot answer those questions in a way that demonstrates that he in fact does support women and women's health and safety, then we will need to oppose him down the road," said Planned Parenthood President Karen Pearl.

Answering questions is a Roberts specialty. He's argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court. Before each one, he'd touch the court's huge statue of former Chief Justice John Marshall for luck.

And if that luck holds for Roberts, a former William Rehnquist clerk, he'll become the first justice to serve on the Supreme Court bench with someone he once worked for.