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Hearings Set for Monday

The Senate Judiciary Committee will kick-start hearings on Judge John Roberts’ nomination to be chief justice of the United States on Monday, a six-day delay allowing for the funeral and burial services this week for the late William Rehnquist.

The delay, however, still leaves plenty of time for the committee to hold a week’s worth of hearings, as originally scheduled, and send the nominee to the full Senate for a vote by the final week of September — the timetable originally laid out by Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

“Assurances have been made that everybody wants to get it concluded,” Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said, although Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) stipulated that those were general assurances of cooperation and not an iron-clad guarantee that Democrats wouldn’t attempt to slow the process.

Regardless, without any new revelations that require the hearings to extend well into the month, Specter said they would conclude on Sept. 16. In order to send the nomination to the full Senate with a recommendation, the committee will then reconvene one of three days: Sept. 20 or Sept. 22, but Sept. 26 at the latest.

That gives the Senate almost three full weeks to take up other legislation, particularly any related to fallout from Katrina’s devastation, and then handle the Roberts nomination beginning Sept. 26 and continuing through the rest of that week.

Specter said he expected President Bush would fairly quickly make a new appointment to fill the vacancy created by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement earlier this summer. “My instinct is the White House will be ready for an appointment reasonably soon,” he said.

But that announcement is not likely to interrupt the Roberts proceedings in any way, although Specter said the early phases of the new nomination battle could get under way while the Senate is still handling Roberts.

“We can pat our head and rub our stomach at the same time,” he said.