A Higher Justice

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 6 2005 6:42 AM

A Higher Justice

The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times all lead with President Bush's announcement that Supreme Court candidate John G. Roberts will now be a nominee for chief justice, putting him in position to succeed former boss and mentor William Rehnquist, who died Saturday. (Roberts' confirmation hearings were scheduled to open today but are being delayed until next week to honor Rehnquist's passing). Justice Sandra Day O'Conner, whom Roberts was originally going to replace, said again Monday that she would not step down until her successor is chosen, meaning she'll still be on the court when the fall term opens next month. However, notes the LAT, her vote probably won't count.

USA Today leads with the latest on the hurricane-recovery efforts (the LAT and Post make the same interesting layout call, both running two six-column banner headlines—Roberts on top, Katrina on the bottom). USAT presents the evacuation of New Orleans as "largely complete," though officials suspect that as many as 10,000 people could remain—either trapped or simply unwilling to leave. "There is nothing for them here," said one widely quoted police official, "no food, no jobs, nothing." Meanwhile engineers succeeded in repairing two levee breaches, including the 200-foot gap in the 17th Street Canal. Using pumps, they were then able to reduce the water level by a foot. The Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox leads with a close look at why the U.S. "[failed] so badly in protecting and rescuing its residents" (sub. req.). The Post also runs a résumé of criticisms directed thus far at FEMA Director Michael Brown.

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With a Roberts confirmation looking likely, the papers turn their attention to the second Supreme Court vacancy. The next battle could be much more contentious if Bush picks a far-right judge to replace the moderate O'Connor. However, experts say, he may not have the political wherewithal to do so, given his dwindling approval ratings and pressing need to address the Katrina aftermath and the deteriorating situation in Iraq.

The NYT notes that as a law clerk, Roberts had early tutoring from Justice Rehnquist on the subject of what makes a good chief justice—and what doesn't. At the time, Rehnquist was an associate justice on the Warren Burger court and frequently spoke with his clerks about his boss's inefficiency and arrogance. When Rehnquist became chief, he made it his business to correct many of the Berger Court's shortcomings. This piece also has a good description of the responsibilities of chief justice.

On the Gulf Coast, the signs of progress included a limited restoration of power in some areas (Times-Picayune) and the first reports of residents being allowed back into their homes to survey the damage. As the LAT reports up front, police permitted 50,000 residents of Jefferson Parish to return home—when the cordon was finally lifted, the scene "resembled a Wild West land rush with squealing tires." Only about 15 percent of the parish was flooded, so most people found their homes intact.

As search teams began to concentrate on recovering bodies (Post), New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin predicted that the death toll could rise to 10,000 (AP) in the coming weeks, though other accounts say it's still impossible to guess. In addition, worried health officials have begun to identify cases of Vibrio vulnificus, a mild form of cholera that can nevertheless be life-threatening to people in poor health (LAT).

The NYTand LATboth run stories on St. Gabriel, La., a town of 5,300 near Baton Rouge, where a large temporary mortuary is being set up to process the majority of the disaster's dead. The goal is to identify as many bodies as possible—but obstacles are many. Most dental records, for instance, are thought to have been ruined in the flood.

Up to 1 million people have been displaced by the disaster. As the Post reports, Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared that his state was full—as many as 250,000 Katrina refugees may be holing up in Houston alone, a fact that many Houston businesses are looking to cash in on (NYT). Along the same lines, the LAT finds that many Texas evacuees have no plans whatever to return to the Gulf Coast. A staggering number of the displaced, in the meantime, are living in shelters across the country that have been set up by the Red Cross and other relief organizations. Find a state-by-state shelter breakdown here.

In his NYT column on Katrina, Nicholas Kristof blasts the Bush administration for its poor record on poverty—the number of U.S. poor, he says, has risen 17 percent under Bush, after having "declined sharply" under Bill Clinton. The U.S. infant-mortality rate has also risen for the first time since 1958—placing the nation at a pitiful 48th in the world. Kristof hopes that Katrina's legacy might be "a serious national effort to address the poverty that afflicts the entire country."

Lemon Aid: the USAT reports that kids all over the country raised thousands of dollars for the relief effort yesterday by selling lemonade to thirsty passersby.

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