Ailing U.S. Chief Justice Rehnquist hospitalized
By Deborah Charles
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Chief Justice William
Rehnquist, whose thyroid cancer has prompted wide speculation
that he will retire, has been hospitalized with a fever and was
undergoing tests on Wednesday, a spokeswoman said.
Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg gave few details of
the condition of Rehnquist, 80, who was taken by ambulance to a
hospital outside Washington on Tuesday night, and did not know
when he would be released.
“The chief justice went to (an) Arlington hospital by
ambulance last night because of a fever,” she said. “He was
admitted for observation and tests.”
An influential conservative on the Supreme Court for more
than 33 years, Rehnquist was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in
His illness has raised questions about how much longer he
will be able to stay on the nine-member high court.
The possibility of a second vacancy on the Supreme Court
bench has intensified behind-the-scenes strategizing by
Republicans and Democrats, already jockeying over who will
replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who resigned July 1.
If Rehnquist retires, there could be two fierce
confirmation fights between Republicans and Democrats in the
U.S. Senate, which must confirm President Bush’s nominees.
Bush is seeking to avoid a bitter partisan battle over his
choice for the high court, which rules on many politicized
social issues like abortion and civil rights. He has made a
point of consulting with senators, while insisting they will
not get a veto on his nominee.
Bush is not expected to name a replacement for O’Connor
until toward the end of the month.
Rehnquist has had a tracheotomy and radiation and
chemotherapy treatments but has kept up with court work from
home. He administered the oath of office to Bush at the start
of the president’s second term in January and returned to the
bench in March.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush was
informed of Rehnquist’s hospitalization and responded: “We wish
him a speedy recovery.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter,
Pennsylvania Republican who will preside over Supreme Court
confirmation hearings, said he had seen the reports on
“When you have cancer, they watch your fever very very
closely,” said Specter, himself undergoing treatment for a form
of lymphoma. “We have to wait developments.”
Rehnquist, who spent several days at work at the high court
last week, has given no indication of his future plans. Since
he has the appointment for life, if he decides to retire, he
can do so at any time.
He has been tight-lipped about his illness and has refused
to release many details on his disease or treatment.
After returning to the bench in March, Rehnquist often
appeared weak and his raspy, wheezy voice — affected by the
tracheotomy tube — was often hard to understand.
Two Supreme Court vacancies last occurred in late 1971,
when Rehnquist was one of the two nominees tapped for the
He has led the court for nearly 19 years and had been on
the court for nearly 15 years before he was elevated to chief
During his years on the court, Rehnquist has led a
conservative legal revolution to expand states’ rights, to
restrict appeals by death row inmates and to allow more public
funding of religious activities.