Roberts is confirmed. Now, who's next?

Bush's chief justice nominee gets more "yes" votes than either of his two most recent predecessors.

Published September 29, 2005 3:31PM (EDT)

For all the talk about those knee-jerk obstructionist Democrats in the U.S. Senate, John G. Roberts was just confirmed as the next chief justice of the United States. Roberts was confirmed by a vote of 78-22, which means that he'll take to the bench with more Senate support than either of his two most recent predecessors. William Rehnquist was confirmed as chief justice by a vote of 65-33. Warren Burger was confirmed by a vote of 74-3.

Of course, these things are all a matter of perspective. As the vote count was announced this morning, Fox News commentators didn't mention the votes on former Chief Justices Rehnquist and Burger but rather those on Bill Clinton's associate justice nominees, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Ginsburg was confirmed 96-3; Breyer, 87-9.

Just before today's voting began, People for the American Way issued a statement bemoaning what it knew was a foregone conclusion. "We are deeply disappointed that John Roberts has been confirmed to a lifetime position as chief justice of the United States," the group said. "Nominees for powerful lifetime positions on the Supreme Court have an obligation to demonstrate that they have a basic commitment to Americans' constitutional rights and legal protections. We believe that Judge Roberts did not meet this burden."

PFAW said it was "disappointed with those Democrats and moderate Republicans who chose to support Judge Roberts" but said it was heartened by reports that "many of those same senators have said they would oppose any effort by President Bush to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor with an ideologue who would push the court to the right."

And with that, attention now turns to the nominee Bush will name next. Bush could name a replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor as early as this week, and speculation continues to center -- fairly or not -- on the notion that he'll name a woman. The latest name to surface: White House counsel Harriet Miers. Miers has played a key role in helping identify and vet Bush's judicial nominees, just as Dick Cheney once played a key role in helping Bush identify and vet potential vice presidential candidates.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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