Roberts was the keynote speaker at the Rule of Law Conference, hosted by the University of Richmond School of Law. The four-day gathering of prominent jurists, legal professionals and scholars from the United States and England is part of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America.
Roberts said one of the things that has made an impression on him in his less than two years as chief justice is the number of foreign visitors who come to the Supreme Court in hopes of learning how to establish "the rule of law" in their country. Those visitors view the Supreme Court as "a temple of the principle they are trying to enact."
He said that principle, which is built on judicial independence, originated in England.
"As a young nation, we were blessed that our forebears came from a tradition where an independent judiciary and an independent bar were not at all foreign," Roberts said. "Other countries are not similarly blessed."
"So when we celebrate the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, we need to recognize the debt we owe to this day to the mother country across the ocean," Roberts said.
In his 19-minute speech, Roberts recounted the early history of the American judicial system, much of which developed in Virginia with prominent roles played by George Wythe and John Marshall, the nation's fourth chief justice.
After his speech, Roberts received the law school's 2007 Green Award for Professional Excellence. The award is named in honor of Judge William Green, one of the law school's original faculty members, and it recognizes exceptional contributions to the legal profession.
Among the previous recipients of the award was Roberts' predecessor, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. The Rule of Law Conference concludes Saturday with a tour of Jamestown and the unveiling of a commemorative plaque donated by the four English Inns of Court, professional associations for British lawyers.