Hours left before Roberts’ confirmation as chief justice

The U.S. Senate is to confirm Thursday John G. Roberts Jr. as the nation's 17th chief justice, and the first in 19 years, as President George W. Bush moves closer to choosing a nominee to fill a second Supreme Court vacancy.

Roberts's confirmation to succeed the late William H. Rehnquist is assured, with all 55 Republicans due to support the nominee and about half the minority Democrats backing him as well. As of yesterday evening, 21 Democrats had broken with their party's leader in the Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada, and declared support for Roberts.

The White House signaled this week that Bush is close to naming a replacement for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who announced her retirement in July. Democrats who supported Roberts warned they would fight the next nominee if Bush names a conservative ideologue. Lawmakers said they expect Bush to announce his choice quickly, perhaps as soon as Roberts is confirmed today.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said his support for Roberts “should in no way be construed as a weathervane for how I might vote on the next nominee.” Wyden said he has opposed several of the president's appeals court nominees who “carry the ideological and activist baggage I believe would be disruptive to law and society,” reports Bloomberg.

The most recent justice, Stephen Breyer, took his oath in 1994 on the front porch of the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist's summer cottage in Vermont. Later, Breyer was sworn in during a nationally televised event at the White House and at a separate ceremony in the Supreme Court. Breyer asked Justice Antonin Scalia to administer the oath at the White House event.

Usually chief justices handle the oaths, although that is not always possible. Harlan Fiske Stone was on vacation when he was confirmed in 1941 as chief justice, so a Rocky Mountain National Park commissioner swore him in.

Roberts is in line to succeed Rehnquist, who died this month, so he may ask another justice, or perhaps a judge from a different court, to oversee the ceremony.

Roberts probably would wear a robe at the Supreme Court event, but not necessarily for the White House affair.

Rehnquist took his oath in 1986 from outgoing Chief Justice Warren Burger. In 1969, Burger was sworn in by outgoing Chief Justice Earl Warren. Warren replaced a chief justice who had passed away, Fred Vinson. Warren asked senior associate Justice Hugo Black and the court clerk to handle the two oaths in 1953, reminds Washington Post.


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