Bush Nominates John Roberts for Chief Justices

BREAKING NEWS: President Bush is nominating John Roberts to be chief justice of the United States to succeed William Rehnquist. (CNN)

A solid, if uninspiring, choice. I’d much have prefered to see Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas elevated but the president either disagrees or doesn’t think he has the political capital to make that happen.

Update: Bush Nominates Roberts As Chief Justice (AP)

President Bush on Monday nominated John Roberts to succeed William H. Rehnquist as chief justice, and called on the Senate to confirm him before the Surpeme Court opens its fall term on Oct. 3.

Roberts, who once clerked for Rehnquist, said he would be honored, “to succeed a man I deeply respect and admire.”

The disadvantage of picking Roberts as chief is that we don’t have a long history of his opinion writing, as we would for a sitting Associate Justice. Of course, that’s an advantage in the confirmation process. Another advantage Roberts brings is that he is almost certain to be confirmed, with even Democrats increasingly favoring him.

Update: CNN has an actual story now: Bush nominates Roberts as chief justice

President Bush on Monday nominated Judge John Roberts to succeed the late William H. Rehnquist as chief justice of the United States. “It is fitting that a great chief justice be followed in office by a person who shared his deep reverence for the Constitution, his profound respect for the Supreme Court and his complete devotion to the cause of justice,” Bush said from the White House, with the judge by his side.

“I am honored and humbled by the confidence that the president has shown in me,” Roberts said. (Watch nomination and acceptance — 3:57) “And I’m very much aware that, if I am confirmed, I would succeed a man that I deeply respect and admire, a man who has been very kind to me for 25 years.”

Roberts accepted the offer in a meeting with Bush on Monday morning, a senior administration official said.

Since his nomination for associate justice earlier this summer, Roberts has garnered praise from many Republicans. No Democrats have said they would reject him, but some have said they have many important questions to ask him in the Senate’s confirmation hearings.

Bush Nominates Roberts to Replace Chief Justice Rehnquist (NYT)

President Bush nominated Judge John G. Roberts Jr. today to replace Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, whose death late Saturday opened a second vacancy on the Supreme Court and a new front in the ideological battle over the judiciary. The chief justice died just days before the Senate Judiciary Committee was preparing to convene hearings Tuesday on the nomination of Judge Roberts, of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to succeed Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The hearings will be the first in 11 years for a Supreme Court nominee. Judge Roberts was a former clerk for Chief Justice Rehnquist.It was not clear how the announcement would affect the proceedings.

The Republican leadership in the Senate signaled that it would almost certainly alter its schedule for the confirmation hearings for the seat being vacated by Justice O’Connor, providing time to honor Chief Justice Rehnquist and acknowledging the extraordinary political climate in Washington after Hurricane Katrina.The chief justice’s death brought to an end a nearly two-decade era in which he managed the court’s consideration of incendiary social issues like abortion, the implications of rapidly changing technology, the ever-present clash between the powers of states and the federal government, and raw political battles, including the 2000 presidential election.Chief Justice Rehnquist’s body will lie in repose in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court all day on Tuesday and on Wednesday morning, the court’s public information office said. The family will hold a private service at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington on Wednesday afternoon, followed by burial in Arlington National Cemetery.The death seemed unlikely to lead to any fundamental alteration in the balance of the court. Chief Justice Rehnquist – unlike Justice O’Connor, who has been a swing voter on the most contentious issues – was a stalwart conservative. Mr. Bush was expected to choose someone from the same mold to replace him, though he was under some pressure to choose a Hispanic or a woman rather than a white man. Today, President Bush made the announcement in the Oval Office with Judge Roberts at his side, saying that with just four weeks left before the Supreme Court reconvenes, it was 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.Chief Justice Rehnquist died Saturday night at his home in Arlington, Va. He was 80 and had been serving on the court for 33 years, the last 19 as chief justice.”He was a man of character and dedication,” Mr. Bush said during an appearance Sunday morning in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, recalling how the chief justice, rendered frail by illness and treatment, had mustered the strength to swear him in for his second term on Jan. 20. “His departure represents a great loss for the court and for our country.”Although Chief Justice Rehnquist had been battling thyroid cancer for nearly a year, the White House, members of the Senate and his fellow justices had no warning that his condition had become dire in the past few days, officials said. Justice David H. Souter said he was “flabbergasted” by the news of his death.

Mr. Bush, who had previously said his goal was for Judge Roberts to be confirmed in time for the beginning of the court’s new term on Oct. 3, had previously signaled that he did not intend to wait long to announce a decision.


For conservative backers of Judge Roberts, any delay poses a danger, giving opponents more time to raise questions and mount opposition. Even Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, the only member of the Judiciary Committee representing a hurricane-affected state, said there was no need to postpone. But White House officials said that they were not concerned by a delay, and that there was still time for the hearings to be completed, votes to take place in the committee and on the Senate floor and to have Judge Roberts sworn in by the start of the new term.

A spokesman for Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said only that a postponement was “under consideration” and would depend largely on funeral arrangements for the chief justice. “The real issue is consideration for the family,” said the spokesman, Bill Reynolds.

I understand that Katrina relief and the death of the Chief Justice are distracting. Still, the latter was hardly unexpected and Congress has very little role in the former now that it has appropriated funds.

There is no reason for delay except, as Steve Bainbridge suggests, hopes of gaining partisan advantage. With the 2006 elections more than a year away, however, that tactic would be hard to pull off.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DL says:

    The media is already demanding that Bush nominate a gay, human, transexual, with a transplated pig’s heart, in order to provide balance to the court in the area of bio-diversity! Anything less, would cruel and (strangely,considering their demands)inhumane!

  2. Another advantage to Cheif Justice Roberts is that he will be on the court for a long time – chances are, he will have 20-30 years in charge of the nation’s highest court.

  3. Anderson says:

    It used to be not uncommon for the chief to’ve not even been a judge, Earl Warren not unconspicuously. So Roberts has more of a paper trail than most.

  4. Garth T says:

    Thanks for your comments. I wanted to share a perspective as well regarding Rehnquist’s death and what that might mean for all of us. GT

  5. James E. Smith says:

    I would have used a little more imagination than the President’s advisors apparently used. How about elevating Ruth Bader Ginsberg to Chief Justice ? She’ll only be around for a few more years and doing that would probably ease the confirmations of both Roberts and the yet-to-be named conservative. Would have been interesting to see the reactions of Chuckie, Paddy and Swimmer on an end-run like that.