updated 9/4/2005 6:10:59 PM ET 2005-09-04T22:10:59

The White House said late Saturday the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist was “a tremendous loss for our nation” and issued a statement of condolence on behalf of President Bush.

Bush was notified of Rehnquist’s death shortly before 11 p.m. It will be the president’s job to nominate Rehnquist’s successor on the Supreme Court.

“President Bush and Mrs. Bush are deeply saddened by the news” of Rehnquist’s death, White House counselor Dan Bartlett said. “It’s a tremendous loss for our nation.”

The president, after attending church services on Sunday, will make a statement about Rehnquist, presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will consider Bush’s nominee as Rehnquist’s replacement, said the chief justice “served his country with honor, dignity and distinction for over 30 years. He was grounded in his beliefs and was a staunch defender of an independent judiciary. People of all philosophies and viewpoints greatly respected Justice Rehnquist and will miss him.”

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the Judiciary Committee chairman, said: “Chief Justice Rehnquist’s death marks the passing of a great American. For more than three decades he left a deep imprint on American law. It has been a profound experience to know him personally.”

“One of the hallmarks of (Rehnquist’s) tenure was his tenacious fight to preserve the integrity and independence of our federal courts,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee’s senior Democrat. “His commitment to the court and his passion for the law and for public service was extraordinary.”

'Renewed respect'
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a committee member, said the high court “enjoyed renewed respect under Rehnquist’s leadership.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Rehnquist “was an inspiration to me to be mindful of our duty to history and our place in preserving the strength of this great nation we serve.”

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Rehnquist “led the federal judiciary with great dignity and clarity ... Through it all, he displayed honor and conviction, a love of the law and a love for his country.”

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said Rehnquist served “with the greatest distinction.”

He also noted that the president now faced the historic task of filling two openings on the high court. “We should proceed carefully and appropriately in filling these important vacancies,” Kennedy said.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Rehnquist “has led the court with honor, dignity, character and — as we have witnessed during his trials of recent months — great personal strength. I have no doubt that when America’s history books are reviewed years from now, his indelible imprint will be found on the court’s history.”

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California called Rehnquist “a strong advocate for an independent judiciary, particularly in response to recent threats to impeach judges for their judicial decisions and to strip federal courts of jurisdiction.”

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