Leah Millis—Getty Images

The Supreme Court finds that each new Justice brings some changes, usually subtle, to the personal interactions among the nine persons who may serve together for years on end. Those changes are more evident and far-reaching when the new appointee is the Chief Justice. Over our long history, referring to the court as “the Marshall court” or “the Warren court” is more than a convenient shorthand. The character and temperament of the one in the court’s center chair are powerful influences on the tone and tenor of the court’s discussions and proceedings, and on how best to address profound legal and constitutional questions. The court has been unchanging in its unyielding commitment to preserve and safeguard its historic place in our constitutional system.

In all these respects, the nation is fortunate that John Roberts is its Chief Justice. He is no longer new on the court. Over the past 15 years, the Roberts court has been shaped by his personal modesty and his professional, scholarly skills. He has strengthened the court and the rule of law it upholds.

In this era, when other branches of government and institutions in our wider society are insensitive to their own incivility, the Roberts court continues to decide questions central to the nation in a civil, thoughtful, rational, dignified way. John Roberts and the court teach that we have freedom but must work always to keep it.

Kennedy served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1988 to 2018

More Must-Reads from TIME