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After Confirmation, Roberts Is Sworn in As Chief Justice

By Sheryl Gay Stolberg 
and Elisabeth Bumiller


Judge John G. Roberts Jr. became the 17th chief justice of the United States on Thursday, taking the oath of office during a brief but emotional White House ceremony just hours after the Senate, with its Democrats evenly divided, voted overwhelmingly to confirm him.

Twenty-two Democrats — exactly half the caucus — and the Senate’s lone independent joined with all 55 Republicans in confirming Roberts, who, at 50, could shape American jurisprudence for decades. Senators are bracing for another bruising battle, with President Bush expected to name another Supreme Court nominee as early as Friday, although administration officials signaled that an announcement was more likely next week.

The vote reflected deep angst and disarray among Democrats, who were under intense pressure from liberal advocacy groups to oppose the nomination. At the end, there were a handful of surprises when stalwart liberal Democrats like Sens. Patty Murray of Washington, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia supported the nominee.

“The Senate has confirmed a man with an astute mind and a kind heart,” Bush said later, moments before Roberts took the oath in the White House East Room, which was overflowing with a standing-room-only crowd of Cabinet members, senators, seven Supreme Court justices and members of Roberts’ family, including his two young children.

It was a day laden with historic import at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue — “a very meaningful event in the life of our nation,” in Bush’s words. Senators, who customarily mill around the chamber during votes, arrived at 11:30 a.m. and took their seats behind their 19th-century mahogany desks, standing one by one to announce their decisions as the clerk called the roll.

The longest-serving Republican, Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, presided. The longest-serving Democrat, 87-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, rose leaning on two canes and waved a frail finger in the air with a flourish, declaring, “Aye.” Roberts and many aides, joined by Bush, watched the proceedings on television.

The East Room swearing in occurred almost 19 years to the day that the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, for whom Roberts once clerked, took the oath of office in the very same room. Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, 85 and the only current member of the court who was also serving on it when Roberts was a clerk, administered the oath, swearing in a man 35 years his junior who was about to become his boss.

“What Daniel Webster termed, ‘the miracle of our Constitution’ is not something that happens every generation,” the new chief justice said after reciting the oath. “But every generation in its turn must accept the responsibility of supporting and defending the Constitution, and bearing true faith and allegiance to it. That is the oath that I just took.”

Bush teared up momentarily during the ceremony, but the occasion was not without slip-ups and humor. Roberts, in a rare case of misspeaking, referred to the Capitol as “the home of the executive branch.”