Rehnquist death prompts scramble for replacement
WASHINGTON – Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s death created upheaval in Washington on Sunday, as President Bush and the Senate scrambled to deal with court’s first double vacancy in 34 years.Rehnquist’s body will lie in repose at the Supreme Court Tuesday and Wednesday. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery following funeral services Wednesday.Senators moved toward beginning Supreme Court nominee John Roberts’ confirmation hearing on Tuesday, but postponing it on the day of Rehnquist’s funeral, congressional sources said, speaking on conditions of anonymity.However, delaying the start of hearings until Thursday has not been fully ruled out said the two sources, one Republican and one Democrat.Rehnquist died at home late Saturday after a long battle with cancer. President Bush ordered flags to fly at half-staff until Tuesday evening in honor of the chief justice, who was on the Supreme Court for 33 years and its leader for 19.But as workers planned to drape the chief justice’s seat in black for the beginning of the Supreme Court’s new term on Oct. 3, the president said he would move to fill the vacancy promptly for the good of the nation.”I will choose in a timely manner a highly qualified nominee to succeed Chief Justice Rehnquist,” he said in a televised announcement from the White House. He planned to head back to the Hurricane Karina-devastated Gulf Coast on Monday.The fate of Bush’s first nominee to the nation’s highest court remains up in the air, but Roberts appeared to be heading for confirmation, as Democrats could not raise significant problems about his nomination.But Democrats wanted Roberts’ scheduled confirmation hearings this week to be delayed in part because of Rehnquist’s death.”Out of respect for the memory of Chief Justice Rehnquist and in fairness to those whose lives continue to be devastated by Katrina, the Senate should not commence a Supreme Court confirmation hearing this Tuesday. A brief postponement will not disadvantage anyone,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.But Senate Republicans were moving toward beginning the hearing as scheduled, the two congressional sources told The Associated Press, allowing Roberts and Judiciary senators to give their opening statements on Tuesday as planned.Senators would wait until Thursday to begin questioning Roberts – taking Wednesday off to attend Rehnquist’s funeral.A second option would be beginning the hearing on Thursday, the officials said. Senate Republicans want to keep Roberts on track for confirmation before Oct.3, the first day of the Supreme Court’s new term.The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan had not been finalized and they were not authorized to speak on the record.Rehnquist is a World War II Army veteran, and his wife is buried at Arlington.Five justices’ bodies have lain in repose in the Supreme Court building’s marble Great Hall: Chief Justices Earl Warren and Warren Burger, and fellow justices Thurgood Marshall, William Brennan and Harry Blackmun.Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., were expected to discuss soon whether to delay the hearings.Roberts is slated to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has said she will stay on the court until her replacement is confirmed.But Rehnquist’s death brings open a second position, the first time since 1971 that there have been two vacancies on the Supreme Court at roughly the same time. Rehnquist, then a Justice Department lawyer advising President Nixon on how to handle the rare opportunity, and Lewis Powell, Jr. were nominated as associate justices to fill those two positions in 1971.It is unlikely the Supreme Court will have all nine positions filled before the new term begins next month, because it could take up to three hearings to complete the court’s roster.Bush could nominate Roberts to fill the chief justice’s chair; elevate a sitting justice like Justices Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas to the top spot; or nominate a new person for chief justice.If a sitting justice is elevated, the Senate Judiciary Committee would have to hold a separate chief justice hearing, as well as two more hearings: one to replace the person newly elevated to chief justice and another one on Roberts.Bush already was suffering from sagging approval ratings over the Iraq war and gasoline prices that were high even before Katrina wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast, and might not be able to afford a bruising battle if he makes a controversial choice to replace the chief justice.Justice John Paul Stevens, the court’s senior justice, will fill the administrative role of chief justice until a new one is confirmed. However, he will not sit in Rehnquist’s chair when the new term begins. It will be draped in black if a new chief justice has not been confirmed.Stevens repeatedly clashed with Rehnquist over court rulings, but on Sunday called him “an inspiration to those of us privileged to serve with him.” Scalia called Rehnquist’s death “a double loss for me; he was my friend long before he was my chief.” Thomas called Rehnquist “a good man who epitomized fairness, dignity and strength of character.”The new vacancy begins a new round of guessing on who Bush’s next nominee will be. O’Connor’s retirement leaves only one woman on the Supreme Court: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Bush will be under pressure to choose a Hispanic or a woman for the court.Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut said President Bush should ask O’Connor to rescind her retirement and perhaps become chief justice.”Asking her to stay on, at least until January, gives the president a bit more time to think this process through, rather than trying to jam decisions,” Dodd told Fox News Sunday.O’Connor cited her age and a need to spend more time with her family in her retirement statement, but “she’s a patriot who would do what her country needed,” Schumer told The Associated Press.Schumer, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and a Judiciary Committee member, also called for a temporary delay in the Roberts hearings out of respect for Rehnquist.”I think it’s appropriate to take a breath and commemorate Chief Justice Rehnquist,” Schumer said. “To rush forward with the hearings during this period of mourning would be somewhat disrespectful.”But Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a former state judge and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called for the hearings to proceed.”We should recess to pay respects to the chief justice and his family,” Cornyn said. “But we should continue on with the confirmation hearings to make sure that there aren’t eight justices on the court when the new session begins.”With eight justices, the court could deadlock on hard issues once the new term begins. If the Supreme Court votes 4-4, the ruling of the lower court stands.—On the Net:Supreme Court: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/White House: http://www.whitehouse.govSenate Judiciary Committee: http://judiciary.senate.govVail, Colorado
Support Local Journalism
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User