John Roberts Sworn In as Chief Justice

John Roberts Sworn In as Chief Justice
Charles Dharapak/AP

updated 09/29/2005 AT 03:35 PM EDT

originally published 09/29/2005 AT 12:05 PM EDT

John Roberts was confirmed and then sworn in as the nation's 17th chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, after being backed by a united Senate Republican majority and about half of a divided Democratic minority.

Joined by his wife, Jane, and President Bush, Roberts, 50, was given the oath in the White House's East Room by senior associate justice John Paul Stevens.

"The Senate has confirmed a man with an astute mind and kind heart," Bush said, according to the Associated Press.

Said Roberts: "I view the vote this morning as confirmation of what for me is a bedrock principle, that judging is different from politics."

The Senate approved Roberts by a 78-22 vote, and he is set to take his seat Monday in time for the new court session. By then, President Bush is expected to name his replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, 75, who is likely to remain on the court until her successor can take her place.

Roberts replaces William H. Rehnquist, who died at age 80 on Sept. 3 after serving on the court for more than three decades. Rehnquist had been chief justice since 1986.

This session, justices are due to tackle such issues as assisted suicide, campaign finance law and abortion – as well as Anna Nicole Smith's appeal to restore her $88.6 million inheritance from her late husband.

While Roberts is solidly conservative and his wife volunteers for the group Feminists for Life, both sides of the political spectrum are anxious to see how he will vote on abortion cases before the high court.

During his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings, Roberts said that past Supreme Court rulings carry weight, including the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in 1973. He also said he agreed with the 1965 Supreme Court ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut that established the right of privacy on the sale and use of contraceptives.

But he tempered that by saying that Supreme Court justices can overturn rulings.

Repeatedly, Roberts assured lawmakers that his decisions would be guided by his understanding of the facts of cases, the law and the Constitution, not by his personal views. "My faith and my religious beliefs do not play a role," said Roberts, who is a Catholic – one of four who now sit on the court, said to be an historic high.

John Glover Roberts Jr. grew up in Long Beach, Ind., working summers in the same steel mill where his father was an electrical engineer and serving as high school class president and captain of the football team.

After graduating with honors from Harvard University – both as an undergraduate and in law school, in 1979 – he clerked for Rehnquist when he was an associate justice on the Supreme Court and later worked as a prominent lawyer and judge in Washington. He argued 39 cases in front of the Supreme Court, and was considered one of the nation's best appellate lawyers before being tapped for the federal appeals court.

John and Jane Roberts have two children: 5-year-old Josie and 4-year-old Jack.

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