Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court John Roberts joined University regents, executive officers and deans of the Law School Friday afternoon for a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the school’s new academic building.

The new addition, which is estimated to cost $102 million, will provide a central commons for students and faculty, several new classrooms and new faculty and staff offices and meeting spaces.

As the keynote speaker at the event, Roberts spoke to hundreds of alumni, faculty and students about the history of the Law School and the three alumni who later served on the Supreme Court — William Day, George Sutherland and Frank Murphy.

“Each studied at Michigan and each served on the court with distinction spanning a period of 47 years and six chief justices,” Roberts said. “And each brought a distinct perspective to the court.”

Roberts also spoke of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who sent a congratulatory message upon the construction of the Law Quadrangle more than 75 years ago.

“If Justice Holmes were here and available to send another congratulatory note, I think he would welcome the demolition of metal cladding on the library stacks,” Roberts said. “He would be the first to point out that dull, grey, prefabricated metal does not symbolize what Michigan is about and I think he would take heart at the delivery of pallets of irregularly shaped pieces of fresh new stone.

“But he might also point out that the mortar between those stones is important as well,” he continued. “The bond between students, professors and alumni, between lawyers and the community is an essential ingredient transforming quarried rock into a great and lasting institution.”

Law School Dean Evan Caminker spoke at the event about the school’s history and what the new academic building would mean for the school’s future.

“Today that drive for excellence brings us here to the intersection of State and Monroe,” Caminker said, “where we will begin to take the next steps in building on the amazing history of Michigan Law.”

Regent Andrew Richner (R–Grosse Pointe Park), who interned for the Office of the White House Counsel while a student at the Law School, reflected briefly on his time as intern and his work for then-Associate White House Counsel John Roberts.

“Given the important responsibilities assigned to me — keeping the coffee warm for example — I’m sure that the chief justice remembers me well — well maybe not,” Richner said with a laugh. “In any case, I remember him and I can say without hesitation that there is no finer lawyer than John Roberts, and it is truly an honor to have him here with us today.”

Richner also emphasized the great amount of work that has gone into planning the Law School expansion, and how it will serve to benefit future students and faculty.

“Over the last three years the regents have overseen the design of many, many new construction projects all across the University campus, but as an alumnus of the law school, I must tell you that the one we’re breaking ground for today is special to me,” Richner said.

In an interview after the event, University President Mary Sue Coleman said she was thankful for the many donors who gave support for the new academic building.

“It’s really so rewarding to see this enormous outpouring of support from alumni of the Law School to get this project underway because we are really dependent on philanthropy to build these kind of buildings,” Coleman said. “It’s a great day for Michigan.”

The University is pledging $18 million to the construction of the new academic building and the Law School is pledging $14 million. The rest of the project’s funding is expected to come from private donations.

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