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US confirms Roberts as top judge

John Roberts has been confirmed by the Senate as the next Supreme Court chief justice of the United States.

He was elected by a comfortable margin of 78 votes to 22, receiving the backing of many Democrats as well as Senate Republicans.

A Catholic with conservative views, Mr Roberts, 50, was President George W Bush's choice for the post.

He was nominated to replace long-serving Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who died earlier this month.

Mr Roberts, an appeals court lawyer and then judge, becomes the youngest chief justice for two centuries.

He was due to be sworn in at the White House immediately after his confirmation, ready to take his seat in time for a new Supreme Court session on Monday.

The justices of the Supreme Court have immense power and are appointed until they die, resign or are impeached.

They can overrule politicians and declare the decision of the president unconstitutional.

President Bush still has to nominate a candidate for a second position on the court, which has come about because of the retirement of Sandra Day O'Connor, who is seen as holding a key swing vote.

Democrats are expected to put up a stronger battle when her replacement is named.

The selection for the remaining vacant seat on the court will almost certainly affect its political balance and therefore be far more controversial, our correspondent says.

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