President Bush announced just a few minutes ago that he is nominating John Roberts to fill Rehnquist’s position as Chief Justice. This move makes sense in a number of respects; by nominating a newcomer as chief rather than elevatng an existing justice, Bush avoids a second fight in the Senate. Roberts has been thoroughly vetted and the Democrats have come up with nothing against him. And it is relatively important to have a new chief justice in place when the October term, lest the responsibility of assigning opinions fall to liberal John Paul Stevens. Since Sandra O’Connor has promised to stay on until a successor has been confirmed, this should mean that the October term begins without a vacancy.
Our old friend Jennifer Loven of the Associated Press adds some helpful context:
The selection of Roberts, who has drawn little criticism, helps Bush avoid new political problems when he already is under fire for the government’s sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina and the president’s approval ratings are sagging.
This little shot will be inserted into pretty much every AP story about anything the President does, for the foreseeable future.
UPDATE: Another important point: This means that Roberts’ nomination now represents the replacement of a conservative (Rehnquist) with another conservative who seems very much in the same mold. To a considerable extent, this takes the Dems off the hook as to Roberts; it means that the second nomination–someone as yet unknown for O’Connor–will be the key one. Since they have nothing on Roberts anyway, the Dems might decide to let him slide through with only token opposition, then hope that a weakened President Bush nominates a moderate to replace O’Connor, in which case there is little net change on the Court. If Bush nominates a conservative for O’Connor’s seat, watch for World War Three.