Here's how Dominique Williams realized that John G. Roberts Jr., Chief Justice of the United States, is really just a regular guy.
By coincidence, Williams, a third-year NCCU law student participating in a moot court competition Tuesday, got to the front door of the school at the same time as Roberts, the nation's chief judicial officer, in town to preside over the same competition.
"He opened the door, not only for me, but for the people with him," said Williams, 29, a native of Halifax County. "That really helped me relax. Not only is he the Chief Justice, he's a person. I felt as if I was talking to one of my professors."
And apparently, even the nation's chief justice isn't immune to small talk.
""He opened the door and was like, 'nice weather!' " WIlliams recounted.
Roberts' appearance Tuesday at NCCU was largely a behind-the-scenes affair. Low key. No media, aside from one student newspaper reporter. No fanfare, no breathless press releases. As the moot court competition proceeded inside, the building was quiet.
Students milled about, and outside, two NCCU cops on segways tooled around, looking bored. They occasionally chatted with a gentleman in a dark suit and an ear piece.
Roberts does, of course, rate a security detail.
Around the back of the building, another gentleman in a dark suit and ear piece sat behind the wheel of an idling, dark-colored SUV with Washington D.C. plates.
Inside a packed courtroom, WIlliams and five other NCCU law students had their first experience arguing a case to a member of the U.S. Supreme Court. Moot court competitions give law students practice arguing cases on appeal, and Roberts was one of three judges to grill students on their arguments.
He was joined on the bench by Allyson Duncan, a former NCCU law professor who sits on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Henry Frye, a former member of the North Carolina Supreme Court.
It was Duncan who asked the most questions, Williams recounted. Roberts chimed in from time to time and also posed several hypothetical situations.
WIlliams expected the hypotheticals, he said; he was part of a group of NCCU students who several weeks ago went to Washington D.C. to observe the U.S. Supreme Court in action.
He noticed then that Roberts favored hypothetical situations and posing analogous situations to attorneys arguing cases.
"It's to get you thinking and have you really understand the issue," Williams said.
Williams said Roberts kept the mood light during the 90-minute court exercise, cracking the occasional joke and appear to enjoy his time with the students.
After the competition, Roberts' security detail shooed students from the hallways, lest it become to clogged by well-wishers, said Tonya Barber, a first-year NCCU law student from Goldsboro who got into the courtroom by winning a student lottery.
"They didn't want too many people hanging around," she said. "Everyone wanted an opportunity just to spot him."
Afterwards, the students posed for photos and had lunch with Roberts, who offered this piece of advice: young lawyers should practice their arguments in front of people who aren't lawyers. Then, ask them to explain the argument.
"You should be able to articulate your argument to anybody," Williams recalled. "You need to break it down to the level that anyone intelligent can understand your argument. He even said 'don't get up there and speak in Latin.' "
The advice Barber, the first-year student, took: "He just told everybody to think. It's not just about the books. Take time to breathe and think before you speak, and make sure you're answering the right question."