The death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist and the deaths of some 10,000 or more American citizens in New Orleans and Mississippi have come virtually at the same time.

We thus face one of the most important moments of decision in all US History---the appointment of two new Justices to the Supreme Court, including a new Chief Justice.

Such decisions are too momentous to make amidst the chaos and crisis that is today's United States. There is only one thing that can be done under the circumstances: postpone the appointments.

The nation is reeling from what may be its deadliest weather-related disaster ever. In effect, the country has lost an entire city, and it has done so in ways that could have been avoided.

New Orleans will almost certainly be rebuilt. But what emerges will be a very different place from the one America has known and loved for so long.

The implications of what has happened there are enormous and unique. The last time the nation and world lost entire cities in one fell swoop was at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In today's America, there are serious questions that need to be answered about climate change, about energy policy, about flood protection, about emergency response, about the use of the National Guard, about the responsibilities of the federal government in a situation where thousands of our citizens are at grave risk.

There are also serious questions about the competency of this particular administration. No other presidency has been marred by equivalent failures to respond to the needs of a population so seriously at risk.

The Bush regime has now allowed the worst terrorist attack in US history, and the worst weather-born disaster. Both catastrophes were entirely avoidable. All partisan politics aside, it is clear specific decisions made by this administration allowed each of these horrible blows to our nation to occur.

In New York, some three thousand Americans died; in New Orleans and Mississippi, we don't yet know, but it will be far more.

Like an automobile careening out of control, we must now question the sanity and competency of the driver...and decide what to do.

Getting to the bottom of this will require months if not years. In that time, deciding who shall dominate the Supreme Court for the foreseeable future simply cannot be done.

The Supreme Court can function perfectly well with seven Justices. Until it holds extensive hearings and sorts through the true nature and abilities of those now running the government, Congress must make no new appointments to the nation's highest judiciary body.

Harvey Wasserman's History of the United States is available at