With John Roberts’ nomination to succeed the late William Rehnquist as chief justice of the United States earlier this week, a prediction first voiced by HUMAN EVENTS came true–albeit after some unexpected turns.
At the White House morning press briefing June 20th, I asked Press Secretary Scott McClellan whether Rehnquist had indicated he would announce his retirement when the court adjourned June 27th and whether U.S. Court of Appeals Judge John Roberts was to be named as his successor. The decision to ask the question was based on growing talk that the ailing chief justice was about to retire and on Roberts’ background as his former clerk and friend.
McClellan replied that any decision on the chief justice’s tenure would "originate with his office," that the White House had not received any notification Rehnquist would step down. He did not address the scenario of Roberts as a possible successor.
With the surprise retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor later in the summer, Roberts was in fact named to her seat on the Supreme Court. But with Rehnquist’s death September 3rd, President Bush moved his appointment to chief justice. One White House source confirmed to me this week that Roberts in fact had been originally considered as a potential replacement for Rehnquist when and if the chief justice stepped down, and then nominated as associate justice when Mrs. O’Connor said she was leaving.
Last week, McClellan told us that the President would consider the "original pool" of 16 names that he had studied when O’Connor announced her decision. This includes the four "finalists" who, along with Roberts, were personally interviewed by the President: Appellate Judges Edith Clement, Edith Jones, J. Harvie Wilkinson, J. Michael Luttig. However, McClellan quickly added, that’s a pool "that could grow."