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Chief justice leaves hospital after seizure

  • Story Highlights
  • Chief Justice John Roberts leaves Maine hospital, resumes vacation
  • President Bush calls Roberts at hospital, is told he's "doing fine"
  • Roberts hospitalized after seizure; he fell, got minor scrapes, court says
  • Supreme Court statement says Roberts "fully recovered," "no cause for concern"
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts left a Maine hospital Tuesday after an overnight stay following a seizure at his vacation home.

The Supreme Court said in a statement Monday that the chief justice had "fully recovered from the incident," and a neurological evaluation "revealed no cause for concern."

Doctors called the incident a "benign idiopathic seizure," meaning there is no known cause for the seizure. Roberts suffered a similar seizure in 1993, the court statement said.

The seizure Monday made him fall, causing minor scrapes, the Supreme Court said.

Roberts, dressed in a blue blazer with an open-collared shirt and khaki pants, waved to the news media as he left Penobscot Bay Medical Center and got into the back seat of a red Ford Expedition.

President Bush called Roberts at the hospital Tuesday morning, and reported that Roberts "sounded like he was in good spirits," according to White House spokesman Tony Snow. The chief justice "assured him he was doing fine," Snow said.

Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg told The Associated Press that Roberts would continue his summer vacation after leaving the hospital.

Roberts, 52, had the seizure Monday afternoon. He had just gotten off a boat after running errands on the mainland, and was carrying bags or packages, Arberg said.

He fell backward about 5 feet on a floating boat ramp, said St. George Rescue spokeswoman Candice Davis, one of the emergency medical personnel dispatched to the call.

When the rescue unit arrived, "the patient was alert and conscious, conversing with personnel on scene," Davis told CNN affiliate WCSH in Portland. "The patient was very cooperative, no initial complaints," she added.

Davis said a cervical collar was placed on Roberts as a precaution, and after a boat carried him to the mainland, he was transported 25 miles by ambulance to the hospital.

Roberts' vacation home, which he bought last summer, is about 70 miles north of Portland.

One of the doctors who tested Roberts, neurologist Judd Jensen, refused to comment on the patient. The hospital has deferred to the Supreme Court for statements.Video Watch a doctor and lawyer discuss significance of Roberts' seizure »

CNN's senior medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon, said when an otherwise healthy person has a seizure, his or her doctor would want to look at whether the patient had started any new medications and had normal electrolyte levels. If those two things were normal, then the person would need a brain scan.

It appears that Roberts' evaluation after his 1993 seizure failed to find a cause, Gupta said. With a second seizure, even 14 years later, it would be important to look in the brain again to determine if there was something structural within the brain that might be causing this, he added.

If Roberts has no more seizures within a relatively short time period, Gupta said he was unsure if the chief justice would be given the diagnosis of epilepsy. He said Roberts may need to take an anti-seizure medication.

A seizure happens when a brief, strong surge of electrical activity affects part or all of the brain. When a person has two or more seizures with no known cause, he or she is considered to have epilepsy. For 70 percent of people with seizures and epilepsy, the cause of their condition is unknown, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. Watch a neurologist describe how seizure could affect Roberts' life Video

The Supreme Court ended its session in June and won't reconvene until October.

CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said the court can continue to function if Roberts is sidelined by medical problems.

"The court sometimes sits with eight people," he said. "Sometimes justices work from home. They vote on cases by memo and listen to the oral arguments on audiotape. Certainly no sign that the chief [justice] is going to need that kind of special treatment at this point, but the court has dealt with illnesses on the part of its members before."

"The justices have a history of somewhat overly optimistic, if not outright deceptive comments about their health," Toobin said later. "Justice Rehnquist was overly optimistic about his recovery from cancer ... and William O. Douglas stayed on the court many months even though he was completely incapacitated."

"Frankly, I don't think the court helps itself when it says something like 'fully recovered' and 'there is no cause for concern' within hours of this illness happening," he added. "Certainly we all hope that he will be fully recovered and there is no cause for concern, but certainly there was no reason to know that for sure yesterday."

Roberts suffered a similar seizure in January 1993 while on a golf course. Doctors were unable to find any cause for that one, either.

Sources close to Roberts told CNN the 1993 seizure occurred shortly after his nomination to a seat on a federal appeals court stalled in the Senate. The seizure was blamed on stress from the confirmation fight; afterward, Roberts limited certain activities such as driving, the sources said.

He had not suffered any recurrence until Monday, the sources said.


Two years ago, as the Senate Judiciary Committee was weighing whether to confirm Roberts as chief justice, members were informed about the 1993 seizure. They did not think it was significant enough to bring up during his confirmation hearings, said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, who served as chairman of the panel.

Roberts, who became chief justice in September 2005, is the youngest of the nine justices on the Supreme Court. He was nominated to be the nation's top jurist by President Bush after the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Allan Chernoff, Bill Mears and Dana Bash contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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