- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Senate yesterday confirmed John G. Roberts Jr. — a federal judge who promised to rule with “modesty” and “humility” — to be the nation’s 17th Supreme Court chief justice.

Within hours of the 78-22 vote, Chief Justice Roberts took the oath of office at the White House and became at 50 the youngest leader of the Supreme Court in more than 200 years.

President Bush called him “a man with an astute mind and kind heart.”

Chief Justice Roberts “will be prudent in exercising judicial power, firm in defending judicial independence and, above all, a faithful guardian of the constitution,” Mr. Bush said before turning to watch him take the oath from the Supreme Court’s senior associate justice, John Paul Stevens.

The newly minted chief justice then stepped to the lectern and quieted the boisterous applause from those gathered in the East Room for the ceremony.

“I view the vote this morning as confirmation of what is for me a bedrock principle: that judging is different from politics,” he said. “And I appreciate the vote very much.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, called the vote a victory “for the rule of law, a victory for the classical and proper role of a judge in our legal system and a defeat for politicizations of courts.”

Looming over yesterday’s vote — in which all 55 Republicans, the chamber’s lone independent and 22 of its 44 Democrats voted in favor of Justice Roberts — was Mr. Bush’s second pending nomination, which was expected to come as early as today.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat who voted against Chief Justice Roberts, warned that if the next nominee is “out of the mainstream,” Democrats will filibuster.

With Mr. Bush’s low poll numbers, the indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and the Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into the investments of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, he said, Republicans are considerably weaker.

“The president and the Republican Party [are] not in as strong a shape today as when they made the first nomination,” Mr. Schumer said. “The question is: Do they consider it the right thing to do to reach out to the middle or do they sort of batten down the hatches and firm up the hard base on the other side?”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, said the success of the Roberts nomination was largely based upon the intellect and legal acumen of Chief Justice Roberts.

“The quality of the nominee was the principal factor,” Mr. Specter said. “I believe that in selecting a man with Judge Roberts’ qualifications that the president disarmed his critics.”

Chief Justice Roberts succeeds as the nation’s senior jurist the late William H. Rehnquist, for whom he had once been a clerk.

The court starts its 2005-06 term Monday, with nine justices. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who announced her retirement in July, will remain on the court until a replacement is nominated and confirmed.

The only drama in yesterday’s vote came in knowing how momentous the decision was. It was the first Supreme Court confirmation in more than a decade and the first confirmation for chief justice in nearly 20 years.

At 11:21 a.m., Senate President Pro Tem Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, banged the small, ivory gavel and instructed senators to take their seats.

For nearly 15 minutes, the Senate had been in a “quorum call” — a parliamentary cease-fire signifying that all debate had been exhausted. Indeed, all but two senators — both from Hawaii — had already declared their intentions for voting on the nomination before them.

Peering down from the “Ladies Gallery” was Jane Roberts, the nominee’s wife who wore a brilliant red dress and white pearls. Herself an accomplished lawyer, Mrs. Roberts watched the vote carefully without betraying any emotion or anxiety.

Below, Mr. Frist was recognized at his desk.

“In this chamber today, we are seated at the drafting table of history,” Mr. Frist said. “We are prepared to write a new chapter in the history of our nation. Our words and our actions will be judged not only by the American people today, but by the eyes of history forever.”

Then he asked: “Is Judge Roberts qualified to lead the highest court in the land?”

Mr. Frist said he felt certain that the nominee was.

Liberals in the chamber weren’t disputing whether he was qualified, but worried that Chief Justice Roberts would reverse the 32-year-old constitutional guarantee to an abortion that was handed down by the Supreme Court.

Likewise, conservatives had grown worried. They had hoped to rely on Judge Roberts to do just that, but were no longer sure after his 20 hours of sometimes opaque testimony.

The clerk began calling the roll and without much surprise — both Hawaii Democrats voted against Chief Justice Roberts — the senators all kept their promises. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat and the Senate’s senior member, rose, twirled his finger skyward and voted “aye.”

Although the number of senators opposing the nomination was among the highest in recent history, it was still an overwhelming vote to confirm Chief Justice Roberts.

Still seated in the balcony, Mrs. Roberts allowed a slight smile to cross her face.

Afterward, senators congratulated one another and, in particular, Mr. Specter, who is pro-choice.

After the vote, Mrs. Roberts left the gallery. She was ushered down the back stairway behind the Senate chamber and out the ground floor staff entrance that faces the Supreme Court. She was on her way to the White House to have lunch with the president and the next chief justice of the Supreme Court.

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