John G. Roberts Sworn in as 17th Chief Justice

John G. Roberts is sworn in at the White House as the 17th chief justice of the United States. Earlier in the day, senators voted 78-22 in favor of Roberts. Now, the president turns to finding a candidate to succeed Sandra Day O'Connor. That, both sides agree, is likely to be a difficult battle.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Justice JOHN PAUL STEVENS: I, John G. Roberts Jr., do solemnly swear...

NORRIS: At the White House today, the country's new chief justice took his oath of office. John G. Roberts was sworn in by the senior member of the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens.

Justice STEVENS: ...and that I will well and faithfully discharge...

Judge JOHN G. ROBERTS Jr.: ...and that I will well and faithfully discharge...

Justice STEVENS: ...the duties of the office on which I am about to enter...

Judge ROBERTS: ...the duties of the office on which I'm about to enter...

Justice STEVENS: ...so help me, God.

Chief Justice ROBERTS: ...so help me, God.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

NORRIS: Roberts was confirmed today by the Senate; the vote was 78-to-22. The confirmation process for the youngest chief justice in two centuries was less contentious than had been expected. A far more bruising battle is anticipated over the next nominee who will replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Here's NPR's David Welna.

Unidentified Man: Mr. Akaka, no. Mr. Alexander...

DAVID WELNA reporting:

It was not your typical roll call today. Senators did not wander in and out of the chamber and mill about the floor as they usually do. Instead, in a rare return to tradition, 100 members assembled and remained in their seats as the roll was called. As Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist noted, the matter being decided by today's vote was also extraordinary.

Senator BILL FRIST (Republican, Tennessee; Majority Leader): The vote we cast today is one of the most consequential of our careers. With the confirmation of John Roberts, the Supreme Court will embark upon a new era in its history, the Roberts era. And for many years to come, long after many of us will have left public service, the Roberts court will be deliberating on some of the most difficult and fundamental questions of US law.

WELNA: Every one of the chamber's 55 Republicans voted for Roberts, as did exactly half of its Democrats. Minority Leader Harry Reid is one of the 22 who voted against Roberts.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Minority Leader): We should only vote to confirm this nominee if he has persuaded us he will protect the freedoms that all Americans hold dear. This is a close question for me, but I will resolve my doubts in favor of the American people whose rights would be in jeopardy if John Roberts turns out to be the wrong person for the job.

WELNA: Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, voted for Roberts, but he warned President Bush that his next nominee should be in the mold of the justice being replaced, swing voter Sandra Day O'Connor.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): It is a time to unite rather than divide. The Supreme Court belongs to all Americans, not to any faction. So for the sake of the nation, I urge the president to live up to his original promise, to be a uniter and not a divider.

WELNA: But South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham recalled another presidential promise.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): I hope the second person that he picks--that he will fulfill his campaign promise to send us a strict constructionist, well-qualified conservative to the court. That's what he should do, that's what I believe he will do and I hope our friends on the other side understand that's what he's going to do.

WELNA: New York Democrat Charles Schumer said all Democrats want is someone who's mainstream, and he said today's vote showed they remain open-minded.

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): Democrats are not lined up as a unit to try and block every nominee that the president puts forward. But if it's a nominee who is considerably out of the mainstream, we'll have no choice but to try and block that nominee on the floor. But we hope and pray it's not that type of nominee.

WELNA: President Bush is expected to name that nominee within days. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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