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US Senate Confirms Roberts as Chief Supreme Court Justice

The U.S. Senate has voted 78 to 22 to confirm Judge John Roberts as the 17th chief justice of the United States. He will succeed the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist when the Supreme Court's new session opens Monday.

The vote was never in doubt, as a number of Democrats announced they would join majority Republicans in backing Judge Roberts' nomination.

Among them was the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who took to the Senate floor moments before the vote.

"If I might speak personally to Judge John Roberts, who will soon be Chief Justice John Roberts: 'be there for all Americans,'" Senator Leahy said.

When he takes the bench on Monday, the 50-year-old Justice Roberts will be one of the youngest justices to lead the Supreme Court, and thus could influence the direction of the high court for years to come, as justices can serve for life. His decisions could affect generations of Americans.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada is among the Democrats who opposed the nomination.

"I have reluctantly concluded that this nominee has not satisfied the high burden that would justify my voting for his confirmation based on the current record," Senator Reid said.

Senator Reid expressed concerns over Judge Roberts' record on civil rights when he worked as a lawyer in the Reagan administration.

At his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Judge Roberts said his work at the time reflected the views of the administration.

Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee spoke for many senators who supported the nomination.

"Judge Roberts will be a great umpire on the high court," Senator Frist said. "He will be fair and open minded. He will stand on principle and lead by example."

The Senate is now awaiting an announcement from President Bush on another nominee to the Supreme Court, this one to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Confirmation hearings for this nominee are expected to be heated, as Justice O'Connor often cast the deciding vote in 5-4 rulings in controversial cases, and thus whomever Mr. Bush nominates could change the balance of power on the high court.