- The Washington Times - Monday, September 5, 2005

Senate leaders yesterday postponed the confirmation hearings for federal Judge John G. Roberts Jr., but Republicans said he still should be seated when the Supreme Court convenes Oct. 3.

Originally slated to begin today, the four-day hearings are scheduled to begin either Thursday or Monday of next week to allow for tomorrow’s funeral of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. Today and tomorrow, his body will lie in repose at the Supreme Court.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said he still expects Mr. Roberts — nominated yesterday to replace Chief Justice Rehnquist — to be confirmed before the start of next month’s Supreme Court session.

“Mr. Roberts is one of the most well-qualified candidates to come before the Senate,” he said. “He will be an excellent chief.”

Leaders plan to announce this morning whether the hearings will begin this week or next, after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, has conferred with all the members of his committee, which will hold the hearings.

Judge Roberts had been nominated to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, but after Chief Justice Rehnquist’s death Saturday, President Bush nominated Judge Roberts to fill the top vacancy. Mr. Bush said he will nominate a replacement for Justice O’Connor soon.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said switching the nomination to the chief justice slot only raises the stakes.

“If confirmed to this lifetime job, John Roberts would become the leader of the third branch of the federal government and the most prominent judge in the nation,” he said. “The Senate must be vigilant in considering this nomination.”

Mr. Reid also said he expects to be consulted on finding a new replacement for Justice O’Connor’s seat.

“Justice O’Connor has been a voice of moderation and reason on the court and should be replaced by someone who, like her, embodies the fundamental American values of fairness, liberty and equality,” he said.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said, “A delay is appropriate, and we will do everything we can to fill this vacancy.

“Given the even greater importance of this new position, we hope the White House will reconsider its refusal to release relevant and important documents that will shed light on what kind of chief justice Judge Roberts would become,” he added.

Off Capitol Hill, those lobbying on both sides of the judiciary fight weighed in.

Conservatives were delighted with nomination of Judge Roberts to be chief justice.

“The nomination of John Roberts as chief justice is a welcomed decision — one that will serve both the nation and the high court well,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the conservative American Center for Law & Justice. “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.”

Liberals did not necessarily share Mr. Sekulow’s view

Nan Aron, president of Alliance for Justice, which announced last week its opposition to Judge Roberts’ nomination, said, “Before he is entrusted with that power, the American people must be assured that he will protect individual rights and freedoms we all cherish.”

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