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After oath, Roberts takes the helm as Supreme Court begins term

WASHINGTON—He sat in John Marshall's chair, swore an oath to do "equal right to poor and rich" and took his place at the center of the eight other justices behind the Supreme Court's mahogany bench.

With that, newly confirmed Chief Justice John Glover Roberts Jr. officially began his tenure Monday as leader of the government's third branch, and kicked off a term full of high-profile cases.

Roberts' investiture at the court was a ceremonial commissioning, following his official swearing-in last week at the White House. It was a high-profile affair with unusual guests in the courtroom: President Bush, some members of the Senate and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who made the motion for the court clerk to read Roberts' commission.

Roberts said nothing during the ceremony, but sported a broad grin throughout. He dressed in the same black robe the other justices wear and, settling speculation among many court watchers, did not have the four gold stripes on each sleeve that former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist had worn for the past seven years.

The regular court session began about an hour later with Justice John Paul Stevens offering a testimony to Rehnquist, who died Sept. 3 after a nearly yearlong battle with thyroid cancer.

"The members of this court will greatly miss Chief Justice Rehnquist's warmth and collegiality," Stevens said. He said a traditional memorial service would be held at a later date. Flags at the court, which have flown at half-staff since Rehnquist's death, will return to normal Tuesday morning.

Roberts took the helm for the rest of the court's regular business, entertaining motions and presiding over arguments in two cases: one involving a dispute over workers' pay and another about taxation of fuel sold on a Kansas Indian reservation.

The docket picks up again Wednesday with one of the biggest cases of the term: a closely watched dispute involving Oregon's assisted suicide law.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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