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Bush nominates Roberts as chief justice

Confirmation hearing delayed; Rehnquist funeral Wednesday

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John Roberts listens as President Bush speaks about Roberts' relationship with the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist Monday.

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Supreme Court
John Roberts
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Moving quickly to fill the vacancy left by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist's death, President Bush on Monday nominated Judge John Roberts to the nation's top judicial post.

"It is fitting that a great chief justice be followed in office by a person who shared his deep reverence for the Constitution, his profound respect for the Supreme Court and his complete devotion to the cause of justice," Bush said from the White House, with the judge by his side.

"I am honored and humbled by the confidence that the president has shown in me," Roberts said. (Watch nomination and acceptance -- 3:57)

"And I'm very much aware that, if I am confirmed, I would succeed a man that I deeply respect and admire, a man who has been very kind to me for 25 years."

Roberts accepted the offer in a meeting with Bush on Monday morning, a senior administration official said. (Watch the report on how appointments change court dynamics -- 3:44)

Bush initially named Roberts to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is retiring.

Top Republican officials said Roberts' nomination hearings, originally set to begin Tuesday, would be delayed. It remains unclear when they will take place.

Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, said the hearings must not be rushed, particularly in light of the recovery efforts on the Gulf Coast.

"In the midst of a national disaster of biblical proportions, it is difficult for the American people to participate fully in the selection of the next chief justice, one of the most important positions in our government and the chief protector of our Constitution," said Kennedy in a lengthy statement, which also raised questions about Roberts' commitment to voting rights and women's rights.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, issued a statement Monday saying the president "has made an excellent choice; Mr. Roberts is one of the most well qualified candidates to come before the Senate."

Since his nomination for associate justice earlier this summer, Roberts has garnered praise from many Republicans.

No Democrats have said they would reject Roberts when he was named to succeed O'Connor, but some have said they have many important questions to ask him in the confirmation hearings.

"This nomination certainly raises the stakes in making sure that the American people and the Senate know Judge Roberts' views fully before he assumes perhaps the second most powerful position in the United States," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee's Administrative Oversight and the Courts Subcommittee, in a written statement.

"Judge Roberts has a clear obligation to make his views known fully and completely at the hearings, and we look forward to them."

Bush called on the Senate to confirm Roberts within a month. The high court begins its new term the first Monday in October.

Rehnquist, who quietly advanced the conservative ideology of the Supreme Court under his leadership, died Saturday. He was 80.

The high court said that Rehnquist's body will lie in repose in the Supreme Court's Great Hall on Tuesday and Wednesday. His funeral will be held at 2 p.m. ET Wednesday at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington. He will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

The justice, diagnosed with thyroid cancer, had a tracheotomy and received chemotherapy and radiation as part of his treatment.

Roberts, a 1979 graduate of Harvard Law School, clerked in 1980 and 1981 for Rehnquist before the latter was elevated to chief justice.

Roberts, 50, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, considered the most influential federal panel outside of the Supreme Court, took the bench in 2003.

He was nominated to the same court in 1992 by the president's father, President George H.W. Bush, but his nomination did not come up for a vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate before the White House changed hands in January 1993.

A longtime appellate attorney, Roberts has argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court, both in private practice and as deputy solicitor general during the elder Bush's administration.

Bush also vowed Monday to select a nominee to replace O'Connor "in a timely manner."

O'Connor has said she will stay on the court until she is replaced.

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