WASHINGTON, Sept. 5 (UPI) -- U.S. President George Bush Monday escalated his Supreme Court nomination of John Roberts to the role of the court's new chief justice.
Senate confirmation hearings were to begin Tuesday for Roberts as an associate justice to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, but Bush announced Monday he wants the conservative Roberts as the replacement for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, who died Saturday after a long struggle with thyroid cancer.
Roberts, 50, is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
"For the past two months members of the United States Senate and the American people have learned about the career and character of Judge Roberts," Bush said in a televised appearance. "They like what they see."
Sitting justices have been elevated to the top job on several occasions but it is was the first time an unconfirmed associate justice nominee was selected for the chief's role, The Washington Post said.
For the second vacancy, Bush is reportedly considering such candidates for the second spot as his close friend Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; his former deputy attorney general, Larry Thompson; and several federal appeals court judges.