The Supreme Court and the speech you’ll never hear
President Bush was faced with several possibilities when Chief Justice William Rehnquist died Labor Day weekend. First, he could go forward with the nomination of Judge John Roberts to fill the Sandra Day O’Connor seat, leaving two other vacancies, one of the nine seats and one designation of a chief justice. Conventional wisdom was that he would like to pick Justice Clarence Thomas or Justice Antonin Scalia, sitting Supreme Court justices, either of whom would have been a controversial nomination. Both are quite ideological and would have caused contentious hearings, something the president apparently wished to avoid. Another choice faced by Bush would have been to name a chief justice from outside the existing court, but not Roberts. This would have been a major distraction if two nominees were being considered by the Senate at the same time. The last time this happened, Rehnquist and Lewis F. Powell Jr. were nominated and confirmed easily. The chief justice position was not in the offing then, however. The option he took - substituting Roberts as the replacement for Rehnquist as chief justice and not as the nominee to fill the O’Connor seat - was politically savvy, since Roberts had received good reviews and was seen as a probable confirmee, notwithstanding all of the theater surrounding it. Therefore it is probable that John Roberts will be chief justice and a new successor to Sandra Day O’Connor is still awaited. Speculation is that it will be a woman and perhaps a minority nominee, but Bush surprised handicappers with Roberts so until his choice is known, everything else is speculation. Another ramification of the process as it plays out is that there will be a full court once Roberts is confirmed, O’Connor having resigned "effective with the confirmation of her successor." How quickly things change when people think they know what is going to happen!