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Seizure Preceded Chief Justice's Fall

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

The chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Roberts, spent the night in a hospital in Maine. He suffered a seizure and a fall at his vacation home. A Supreme Court spokeswoman says Roberts has fully recovered but he was kept overnight for observation after undergoing a thorough neurological exam. The chief justice is 52-years-old. He's the youngest member of the court. Fourteen years ago, though, he suffered a similar seizure.

NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg is in Maine on vacation, as the chief justice was - separate vacation, of course - joins us this morning. Nina, what happened?

NINA TOTENBERG: Well, he was at his vacation home at Port Clyde. Apparently, he had a seizure and fell, sustained some scrapes and was rushed immediately to Penobscot Bay Medical Center, which is a small community hospital nearby.

And they put him through a battery of tests. They have apparently ruled out any possibility of a tumor or a stroke. He was given a complete neurological exam. And they concluded that this was what they call an idiopathic episode, meaning that's doctor's talk for we don't know what happened or why.

INSKEEP: Well, I have to say when you hear the words, as we did yesterday with the initial reports, seizure and hospital, it sounds pretty scary.

TOTENBERG: Well, what made it even more scary is that, as I said, he was at a small community hospital. And good as it is, they're not used to having something like this happen and they put out an alert that they were setting up a media center. And the minute the national press hears that there's a media center.

INSKEEP: Oh, you think about a deathwatch or something?

TOTENBERG: Yeah, you think about a deathwatch. You know, when the Supreme Court press office heard about this, they almost had a death in the family themselves. They went into cardiac arrest, but it was too late.

INSKEEP: In reality is it really that serious?

TOTENBERG: In reality, it appears that they're going to let him go this morning, that he will probably go home. And then it'll be up to him when he wants to go probably get some more expert views on MRIs and all that kind of stuff to try to figure out if he has some relatively benign form of epilepsy or something else going on; or they absolutely can't figure it out, whether they want to put him on medication so that it doesn't happen again, because the odds increase of it happening again if it happens a second time. And all of that but it's not life threatening. The man is 52 years old, it, you know, it's basically over.

INSKEEP: You have covered some other Supreme Court justices who did suffer through illnesses while working on the court.

TOTENBERG: First of all, the chief justice seems to be fine. There have been periods of time, more than a year, when we went without somebody on the court. We've just experienced the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist who was very sick for over a year - I think it was a year and a half before he died - and was out for quite some time. So we're not looking at something happening in terms of anything at the moment, I guess is the inarticulate way of putting it.

INSKEEP: NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg with the latest on Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts who suffered a seizure but is said to be fine. Nina, thanks.

TOTENBERG: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That happened, as we mentioned, while Roberts was on vacation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.