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Bush nominates Roberts to succeed Rehnquist as C.J.

Updated 12:55 p.m. EDT, Sept. 6

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush Monday nominated John Roberts to be the nation’s next Supreme Court chief justice, moving quickly to fill the void left by the death of William Rehnquist.

A staunch conservative, Rehnquist had served as the nation’s chief justice since 1986, but died Saturday night after a battle with thyroid cancer. Bush nominated Roberts earlier this summer to fill the void left by the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor. But with Roberts now set to succeed Rehnquist, Bush must find another replacement for O’Connor, who has said she would serve until a nominee is confirmed.

If confirmed Roberts would be the nation’s 17th chief justice. The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to begin confirmation hearings Tuesday but has delayed them until Monday, Sept. 12. Rehnquist’s funeral will be held Wednesday.

Bush said he hopes to see Roberts confirmed by the Senate before the court begins its new term in October.

“The passing of Chief Justice William Rehnquist leaves the center chair empty just four weeks left before the Supreme Court reconvenes,” Bush said in an announcement with Roberts by his side. “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. 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.”

Bush said he would fill O’Connor’s seat in a “timely manner.”

Roberts served as a law clerk under Rehnquist in the early 1980s. Rehnquist was nominated by President Nixon to be associate justice and served in that role from 1972-86. Pro-family groups considered Rehnquist –- a dissenter in the infamous Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion -– to be an ally.

“I’m certain that Chief Justice Rehnquist was hoping to welcome John Roberts as a colleague, and we’re all sorry that day didn’t come,” Bush said. “Yet it’s 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.”

Roberts, who as an attorney argued nearly 40 cases before the high court, called his nomination to be chief justice a “special opportunity.”

“I am honored and humbled by the confidence that the president has shown in me,” he said. “And 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.”

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, called the nomination of Roberts a “welcomed decision.”

“With his judicial philosophy of interpreting the Constitution instead of legislating from the bench, John Roberts will set a tone that will resonate with the American people as the high court tackles some of the most challenging issues of the day,” Sekulow said in a statement. “I have known John Roberts for nearly 20 years and worked with him on cases at the Supreme Court and I believe his selection to succeed Chief Justice Rehnquist is an extraordinary move.”

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