It was always going to be an intense week for John Roberts. But it suddenly grew more so.
On September 6th, he was due to be grilled by the Senate to see if he would make an adequate Supreme Court justice, having been nominated two months ago to replace Sandra Day O’Connor, who is retiring. But on September 3rd, Chief Justice William Rehnquist died of thyroid cancer (see article). Two days later, President George Bush nominated Mr Roberts to succeed him as the nation’s top judge.
Mr Roberts’s confirmation hearings were postponed until September 12th, out of respect for the late chief justice, and perhaps to allow Mr Roberts time to mourn the man he once clerked for. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are preparing tougher questions for Mr Roberts.
His nomination as chief justice “raises the stakes”, said Charles Schumer, a Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee. “Exponentially,” added Ralph Neas of People for the American Way, a liberal lobby group.
Mr Roberts is only 50. Supreme Court judges have jobs for life (though Mr Roberts once argued that they should not, lest they “lose all touch with reality”).