President George W. Bush nominated John G. Roberts Jr. ’76 to be the 17th Chief Justice of the United States Monday. If the Senate confirms him, Roberts will become the first graduate of Harvard College or Harvard Law School (HLS) to serve as chief justice.
The re-nomination follows the unexpected death on Saturday of former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who held a masters degree from Harvard. Roberts had already been tapped to replace retiring justice Sandra Day O’Connor. His confirmation hearings, the first in 11 years, were set to begin tomorrow, but have been delayed.
By switching Roberts’ nomination from associate justice to chief justice, Bush is hoping to have nine justices on the bench when the Supreme Court’s term starts on October 3. O’Connor has agreed to stay on until she is replaced.
"He thrives on challenges and I have no doubt this is precisely where he wants to be," said Robert N. Bush '77, Roberts' roommate at Harvard for three years. "Few people who study history are destined to influence it as he may," reports Harvard Crimson.
According to Washington Post, the rare opening of two seats on the nine-member court gives Bush the opportunity to dramatically move the balance of power on the court to the right.
The switch, which comes as the Bush administration struggles to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, had both sides hurriedly recalibrating their strategies. Senate leaders agreed to postpone Roberts's confirmation hearings, which had been scheduled to start today, probably until next Monday.
Bush urged the Senate to quickly confirm Roberts in time for the Oct. 3 start of the new Supreme Court term, saying that the Senate was "well along in the process of considering Judge Roberts's qualifications."