John G. Roberts Jr. was confirmed as the 17th U.S. chief justice on Thursday, becomes the first new member of the Supreme Court in 11 years.
With tears welling up in his eyes, Roberts paid tribute to his predecessor, the late William H. Rehnquist, as he took the oath at a White House ceremony just hours after his bipartisan confirmation by the Senate. Rehnquist's death on Sept. 3 at age 80 prompted President George W. Bush to renominate Roberts to lead the court. Roberts was originally in line to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor after she announced her retirement in July.
The Senate's endorsement is “confirmation of what is for me a bedrock principle, that judging is different than politics,” Roberts said. “Every generation in its turn must accept the responsibility of supporting and defending the Constitution and bearing true faith and allegiance to it.”
Roberts, 50, now the youngest member of the high court, took the oath of office from the oldest, Justice John Paul Stevens, 85. Rehnquist, who hired Roberts as a clerk for the court's 1980-81 term, served as chief justice for 19 years, reports Bloomberg.
According to the AP, Roberts told senators during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings that past Supreme Court rulings carry weight, including the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in 1973. He also said he agreed with a 1965 Supreme Court ruling that established the right of privacy in the sale and use of contraceptives.
But he tempered those statements by saying Supreme Court justices can overturn rulings. During four days of occasionally testy questioning by Democrats, Roberts refused to hint how he would rule on cases.
"If the Constitution says that the little guy should win, then the little guy's going to win in the court before me," Roberts told senators. "But if the Constitution says that the big guy should win, well then the big guy's going to win because my obligation is to the Constitution."