The death of the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, William Rehnquist, has prompted the Senate Judiciary Committee to postpone confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee John Roberts until after Justice Rehnquist's funeral on Wednesday. The hearings could begin as early as Thursday or as late as Monday for Judge Roberts, whom President Bush has nominated to succeed Chief Justice Rehnquist on the high court.
The hearings for Judge Roberts had been scheduled to begin Tuesday, but were delayed because of Chief Justice Rehnquist's death.
President Bush initially nominated Judge Roberts to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. But on Monday, he announced he wanted the appeals court judge to become Chief Justice.
That has prompted Senate Democrats to call for an even more aggressive examination of Judge Roberts' record. Senator Harry Reid is the Senate's top Democrat. "The Chief Justice of the United States is the highest legal position in the United States. I believe the Judiciary Committee - the eight Democratic senators (on the committee) -- will keep that in mind. They are going to be thorough in their questioning of him."
A number of liberal groups are concerned by Judge Roberts' conservative views on affirmation action and abortion, although Democrats have said that to date they have not found anything in his record that would prevent his confirmation.
Republicans, including Judiciary Committee member, Senator Orrin Hatch, are praising the nomination of Judge Roberts to be Chief Justice. "He is one of the best lawyers in the world," Senator Hatch said.
Decisions by the high court play a central role in shaping the social, cultural and political fabric of the United States. Justices on the Supreme Court can serve for life. If confirmed, the 50-year-old Judge Roberts could shape the court for decades to come.
With that in mind, the Republican chairman of Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, vows to conduct thorough and even-handed confirmation proceedings for Judge Roberts. "I can assure you that the hearings will be full, fair and complete, and that the 18 members of the Judiciary Committee will have a full opportunity to examine Judge Roberts in some detail," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says he hopes Judge Roberts can be confirmed before the Supreme Court begins its new session October 3.