President Bush Nominates Judge John Roberts as Chief Justice of U.S. Supreme Court
President Bush on Monday nominated Judge John Roberts to be chief justice of the Supreme Court after former Chief Justice William Rehnquist -- a "consistent conservative" -- died from thyroid cancer on Saturday, the Boston Globe reports (Klein, Boston Globe, 9/6).
Roberts -- who Bush in July first nominated to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor -- in 2003 was confirmed as a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He has never written a legal opinion on the issue of abortion as a judge, and his personal views on abortion rights are not known (California Healthline, 7/20). Since O'Connor has agreed to remain on the court until her successor is confirmed, the court's fall term -- which begins Oct. 3 -- could begin with nine sitting justices if Roberts is confirmed before that date.
"It is in the interest of the court and the country to have a chief justice on the bench on the first full day of the fall term," Bush said, adding, "The Senate is well along in the process of considering Judge Roberts' qualifications. They know his record and his fidelity to the law. I'm confident that the Senate can complete hearings and confirm him as chief justice within a month" (Baker, Washington Post, 9/6).
Bush had been considering eventually appointing Roberts to chief justice before Rehnquist's death, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said.
Roberts, who was a clerk for Rehnquist, said, "I'm very much aware that if I am confirmed, I would succeed a man I deeply respect and admire, a man who has been very kind to me for 25 years" (Hirschfeld Davis, Baltimore Sun, 9/6).
The Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearings for Roberts' nomination, which were scheduled to begin Tuesday, have been postponed at least until Thursday and could be delayed until Monday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (Shepard/Herman, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 9/6). Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said he plans to have the full Senate take up Roberts' nomination the week of Sept. 26, adding that Roberts "will be confirmed" before Oct. 3, CQ Today reports.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, "Now that the president has said he will nominate Judge Roberts as chief justice, the stakes are higher and the Senate's advice and consent responsibility is even more important," adding, "The Senate must be vigilant in considering this nomination" (Perine, CQ Today, 9/5).
Bush likely has avoided a potentially tough Senate battle over the nomination for chief justice because Senate Democrats largely have been "restrained in their criticism" of Roberts, the Houston Chronicle reports (Roth, Houston Chronicle, 9/5).
Liberal advocates and some Senate Democrats on Monday renewed their call for the White House to release all of Roberts' records from his tenure in the Solicitor General's office during the former Bush administration, the Wall Street Journal reports.
"Given the greater importance of this new position, we hope the White House will reconsider its refusal to release relevant important documents that will shed light on what kind of chief justice John Roberts would become," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said (Cummings/Bavin, Wall Street Journal, 9/6).
Bush on Monday said he would name a nominee to replace O'Connor in a "timely manner," the Los Angeles Times reports. According to the Times, "intense speculation" is surrounding O'Connor's replacement because she is seen as the court's "swing vote" on issues such as abortion rights.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the Senate should know who Bush plans to nominate to replace O'Connor before it considers Roberts' nomination. "The American people care deeply about the overall balance of their highest court," Kennedy said (Savage/Weinstein, Los Angeles Times, 9/6).
However, Bush is not expected to nominate another Supreme Court justice until after Roberts' confirmation vote in the Senate, the Washington Times reports (Sammon, Washington Times, 9/6).
While Bush could "force an ideological shift" by replacing O'Connor "with a reliably conservative vote," Rehnquist and Roberts both are "deeply conservative," the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Loven, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/5).
Rehnquist, who became an associate Supreme Court justice in 1972 and chief justice in 1986, was a "reliable vote" against a constitutional right to abortion, the New York Times reports (Toner/Kirkpatrick, New York Times, 9/5). He dissented in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, which effectively outlawed state abortion bans, writing, "The decision here to break pregnancy into three distinct terms and to outline the permissible restrictions the state may impose on each one, for example, partakes more of judicial legislation than it does of a determination of the intent of the drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment" (Perine, CQ Today, 9/4).
Roberts in 1991 while serving as deputy solicitor general argued that federally funded family planning clinics should be banned from providing abortion-related counseling and said that Roe v. Wade -- the 1973 Supreme Court case that struck down state abortion bans -- was "wrongly decided" and did not have support "in the text, structure or history of the Constitution." He said the decision should be overturned.
However, during his 2003 confirmation hearings for the federal judgeship, Roberts downplayed those comments, saying he made those statements only as part of making a case for the former Bush administration. During the hearings, he also said the decision in Roe is "the settled law of the land" (California Healthline, 7/20).