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U.S. top court's Roberts asks lawyers to 'rise above' political bickering

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts on Monday called on members of the nation's largest group of attorneys to "rise above" the political disputes that have left Washington increasingly gridlocked in recent years.

Roberts, a conservative justice who was the swing vote on a 2012 Supreme Court decision that upheld President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, told members of the American Bar Association that they have a role to play in maintaining the public's faith in the U.S. political system.

"We live in an era in which sharp partisan divides within our political branches have shaken public faith in government across the board," Roberts told a crowd of several hundred ABA members in Boston. "We in the judiciary must also look to the bar for broader assistance in maintaining the public's confidence in the integrity of our legal system."

With polling showing Americans holding a low opinion of both President Barack Obama and Congress, Roberts, who was appointed chief justice in 2005 by then-President George W. Bush, said courts and lawyers must try to lift themselves above partisan passions.

"Lawyers fulfill their professional calling to its fullest extent when they rise above particular partisan debates and participate as problem solvers, whether through the ABA’s committees, through pro bono work, through public service or simply by helping the public understand the nature of the role that courts play in civil life, a role distinct from that of the political branches,” Roberts said.

In a speech largely focused on the Magna Carta, the seminal 1215 English charter of liberties, he called on his audience to remember that every generation has faced political roadblocks.

"Magna Carta's core principles of justice remain relevant today and worth defending," Roberts said. "No generation is spared its challenges."

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Will Dunham)

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