Seizure Preceded Chief Justice's Fall

Chief Justice John Roberts spends the night in a small Maine hospital after suffering a seizure and falling at his vacation home. Cleared after a neurological exam, Roberts, 52, is expected to go home Tuesday.

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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.

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Chief Justice Roberts Leaves Hospital

Chief Justice John Roberts was released Tuesday from a hospital in Maine, a day after he was taken there after suffering a seizure.

Roberts walked out of the Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport, waving to onlookers before getting into a waiting vehicle for a short trip to a dock, where he then took a pontoon boat to his summer home on Hupper Island, near Port Clyde.

Roberts had no response when a reporter hollered, "How are you feeling?"

The chief justice, 52, plans to continue his summer vacation, Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said. She said that doctors found no cause for concern after evaluating Roberts.

Roberts was taken to a hospital after he fell due to the seizure. He underwent a thorough neurological exam, a Supreme Court spokeswoman said.

Doctors determined that he had suffered a "benign idiopathic seizure," meaning they found no tumor, stroke or other explanation.

The incident, which left Roberts with some scrapes and bruises, occurred around 2 p.m. on a dock near Roberts' summer home in Port Clyde, which is part of the town of St. George, about 90 miles by car northeast of Portland, midway up the coast of Maine.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Roberts "sounded like he was in great spirits."

"The chief justice assured him (President Bush) that he was doing fine," Snow said. "The president was reassured."

Roberts had a similar episode in 1993.

Dr. Marc Schlosberg, a neurologist at Washington Hospital Center, said idiopathic seizures are not uncommon.

"Probably about 20 percent of us will have a seizure at some time," he said. "A recurrent seizure is a little bit more unusual and less common. In fact, if someone has more than one seizure, that is classified as epilepsy."

Named to the court by President Bush in 2005, Roberts is the youngest justice on a court in which the senior member, John Paul Stevens, is 87. Mr. Bush was informed of the hospitalization by his chief of staff, Josh Bolten, the White House said.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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