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A timely chief justice
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service


September 06, 2005

On Sunday morning, following the death of William Rehnquist, President Bush promised to choose a successor in "a timely manner."

"Timely" turned out to be 24 hours. On Monday morning, he nominated John Roberts, whom he had already named to the Supreme Court, to be its chief justice. It was a shrewd move on a number of counts and suggests that Bush had in the back of his mind plans to one day make Roberts the chief justice in any case.

Roberts was a known quantity within the Washington legal community even before July 19 when Bush named him to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor who had announced plans to retire. He is the kind of conservative who doesn't scare liberals. Now that Roberts is in line to become chief justice, Senate Democrats may be a little tougher and more demanding but he is still on track to be on the bench in time for the opening of the high court's next term Oct. 3.

If Roberts truly does reflect Bush's judicial philosophy, this appointment means the president's influence on the court will last long after he leaves office since Roberts is only 50. And Bush may even get more vacancies on the court than the two he has now.

Since O'Connor has said she would stay on until her successor is named, Bush has the luxury of taking his time about finding one. That may prove to be difficult. He is under pressure to choose a woman or a minority and already the far right was gearing up again to prevent the president from nominating his attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, he being deemed ideologically suspect.

With O'Connor filling in, the court would start the term - and a docket of important cases beginning with Oregon's right-to-die law - with a full complement of nine justices. It remains to be seen how badly his administration's sluggish and confused response to Katrina will affect the president politically. Now might not be the best time to take on an ideologically charged confirmation fight.

Certainly one factor in the quick announcement of Roberts as chief justice was to get the administration off the defensive and start trying to regain a hold of the national agenda. It was a speed and boldness that many wished the president had shown in dealing with Katrina.


Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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