President Bush moved swiftly to elevate John Roberts' nomination following Justice Renhquist's death over the weekend.
President Bush praised Judge Roberts as a natural leader and called on senators to confirm the 50-year-old judge, whom he had earlier nominated to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. "The passing of Chief Justice William Rehnquist leaves the center chair empty with just four weeks left before the Supreme Court reconvenes. It is in the best interest of the court and the country to have a chief justice on the bench on the first full day of the fall term."
That term begins October third. Justice O'Connor has agreed to remain on the bench until her new replacement is confirmed.
Judge Roberts, who once clerked under Justice Rehnquist, says he is deeply honored to follow in the footsteps of a man who was both friend and mentor. "And I'm very much aware that if I am confirmed, I would succeed a man I deeply respect and admire, a man who has been very kind to me for 25 years."
Many Senate Republican leaders believe the Harvard-trained lawyer and former White House counsel would make an excellent chief justice. But some Democratic Party Senators say the stakes are much higher now and urged colleagues to be vigilant in examining the judge's record.
Senate Minority leader Harry Reid, who considered Justice Rehnquist a good friend, believes it's too soon to choose his successor. "I feel terribly uncomfortable moving forward with this while his funeral is pending and my personal feeling is we should wait for a while to do it."
Some political observers predicted Judge Roberts would be confirmed for the O'Connor vacancy.
Tougher questions are expected now that he has been nominated for Chief Justice but experts say it's not likely to change the outcome.
Confirmation hearings have been delayed until after funeral services are held for Justice Rehnquist. The hearings are expected to last three weeks before the committee goes to the full chamber for a vote.