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September 5, 2005
Roberts Gets Chief Justice Nod, Delay In Hearings

In a bold but strategically sound move, George Bush nominated John Roberts as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court just ahead of his confirmation hearings to the bench itself. This additional nomination prompted an immediate but short delay for those hearings, most likely in respect for the passing and funeral of the late Chief Justice, William Rehnquist:

President George W. Bush nominated appeals court judge John Roberts on Monday to replace the late William Rehnquist as U.S. chief justice of the Supreme Court.

"Judge Roberts has earned the nation's confidence, and I'm pleased to announce that I will nominate him to serve as the 17th chief justice of the Supreme Court," Bush said in the Oval Office with Roberts at his side.

Bush urged the Senate to move quickly to confirm the 50-year-old conservative in time for the October 3 start of the new term of the Supreme Court. Rehnquist died on Saturday of cancer.

One cannot help but think that Roberts' elevation to Rehnquist's seat would have pleased the late jurist. Roberts started as a law clerk for Rehnquist while the latter was still an associate justice on the Burger court. While Rehnquist may have delayed retirement in part to have a historic opportunity to work with a former clerk on the court, this selection pays homage to Rehnquist in a more substantial fashion than any other selection.

That doesn't quite mean it will benefit Roberts' confirmation in any manner. While Democrats may breathe a little easier at having to oppose Roberts as Chief Justice rather than Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas, this change will hike the public profile of the confirmation hearings even higher. Paying lip service to the PFAWs and Nan Arons of the Left has just become a more difficult task, even though the position of Chief Justice holds very little real power -- especially during the Rehnquist years, where the composition of the court kept the Chief Justice from creating any kind of consistent legacy.

As John Hinderaker pointed out during the NARN show yesterday and Paul Mirengoff wrote at Power Line, the problem with the Rehnquist years had more to do with the other justices appointed by Republicans than with Rehnquist himself. Jurists like Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter wound up waffling and reversing themselves during their careers on the bench, making for an inconsistent pattern of decisions by the court and a lack of any clear direction. History will probably show Rehnquist to have been a highly competent jurist but his court as reflective of the contradictory times in which it served.

That will play in Roberts' favor to the extent that he will not have a tough act to follow. It will make it easier to argue that the CJ does not wield the impact and influence of earlier courts, thanks in large part to the court Roberts will inherit. It also helps in that Roberts becomes the Rehnquist replacement on the bench itself, in spirit if not in fact, giving the Democrats hope that the next nominee might be a more squishy, O'Connor type rather than a Michael Luttig or Michael McConnell staunch conservative. Expect the delay to cement a relatively easy confirmation process for John Roberts.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 5, 2005 11:48 AM

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President Bush has decided to nominate John Roberts as a replacement for the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist rather than the original nomination to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. I think this is a smart move. Interestingly, Ed Morrissey agrees that [Read More]

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