George W. Bush may have been slow to respond to Hurricane Katrina, but you can't say he dallied in naming a replacement for William Rehnquist. The chief justice died Saturday evening; Bush named John G. Roberts to succeed him early this morning.
Mustering all of the imagery of the presidency -- he made the announcement in the Oval Office, with Roberts at his side -- Bush is making it clear to the world that he is on top of the Supreme Court situation. "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. Roberts said he was honored and humbled to be nominated to succeed a man for whom he clerked more than two decades ago.
Bush said he wants Roberts confirmed within a month; if he gets his wish, Roberts will be on the bench by the time the Supreme Court's 2005 term begins on Oct. 3. Although People for the American Way, the Alliance for Justice and the National Women's Law Center previously announced their opposition to Roberts' nomination to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, it's hard to imagine that he won't be confirmed as chief justice. He'll have unanimous support from Senate Republicans, and some Senate Democrats -- particularly those from red states -- seemed inclined to support him for O'Connor's seat.
Roberts' nomination as chief justice raises the stakes a little, but only a little. The job is more administrative than anything else. And while many would have liked to have seen Bush name someone other than a white man to the chief justice position, Democratic senators may see Roberts as a more palatable replacement for the reliably conservative Rehnquist than he was for the more liberal O'Connor. Of course, Bush now needs to find a replacement for O'Connor. But first, he's off to Louisiana and Mississippi again to try survey Katrina's damage and to repair some of his own.