Rehnquist Says He’ll Stay on Supreme Court

Rehnquist Says He’ll Stay on Supreme Court (NYT – AP) (also MSNBC, AFR)

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, denying rumors of his retirement, said Thursday he will continue heading the court as long his health permits. ”I’m not about to announce my retirement,” he said in a statement obtained by The Associated Press. ”I want to put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors of my imminent retirement,” said Rehnquist, 80, and ailing with thyroid cancer. ”I am not about to announce my retirement. I will continue to perform my duties as chief justice as long as my health permits.”

Rehnquist released the statement hours after being released from an Arlington, Va., hospital after being treated for two days with a fever.

YahooNews has a different variant on the AP feed:

Rehnquist Says He’ll Stay on Supreme Court (AP)

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist’s pledge to continue working despite his thyroid cancer leaves the White House with just one Supreme Court seat to fill, suddenly changing the dynamic of the summer confirmation battle. The prospects of a double high court vacancy had much of Washington in a frenzy. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced earlier this month that she was stepping down, and the retirement of 80-year-old Rehnquist was thought to be next. “I want to put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors of my imminent retirement,” Rehnquist said in a statement first disclosed by The Associated Press late Thursday and later confirmed by the court. Rehnquist said he would “continue to perform my duties as chief justice as long as my health permits.”

Richard Garnett, a Notre Dame law professor and former Rehnquist law clerk, said “the chief justice’s decision liberates the president.” “The question mark that was hanging over the process is now gone,” Garnett said. “President Bush has fewer impediments in doing what he has said all along he was going to do — nominate a conservative justice in the mold of Justice (Antonin) Scalia.”

But Supreme Court historian David Garrow said Bush “has to do something other than a white male appellate judge: whether it is a woman, whether it’s Hispanic, whether it’s someone outside the judicial box.”

Rehnquist has been battling thyroid cancer, and medical experts initially had speculated that he probably had the deadly anaplastic form of the disease, based on the chemotherapy-radiation treatment he began receiving in October. But now that seems less likely. “The prognosis for that is so poor. Most patients succumb very quickly, within three to six months,” said Dr. Mark Urken, a cancer expert at Beth Israel Hospital in New York.

Chief Justice Rehnquist Leaves Hospital (WaPo, A01)

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist emphatically denied yesterday that he intends to step down from the Supreme Court in the near future, as he sought to halt a spiral of speculation about his possible retirement. In a statement, Rehnquist, who is 80 and suffering from thyroid cancer, said flatly: “I am not about to announce my retirement.” “I want to put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors of my imminent retirement,” Rehnquist said. “I am not about to announce my retirement. I will continue to perform my duties as chief justice as long as my health permits.”

In a sign that the announcement reflected a spontaneous personal reaction to the rising tide of speculation, Rehnquist released the statement through his family, which contacted the Associated Press shortly before 9 last night — rather than putting out the news through the court’s public information office during business hours, as he has done on other occasions.

Rehnquist Says He Isn’t Retiring, Dampening Court Speculation (Bloomberg)

[…] A Rehnquist retirement would have let Bush do what no president has done since 1971: fill two high court vacancies at once. Bush now will focus solely on replacing retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the court’s longtime swing vote on abortion, affirmative action and church-state issues.

“The chief justice has accomplished two things simultaneously — bringing clarity to the politics of confirming Justice O’Connor’s successor while recovering his own personal privacy,” said Washington lawyer Thomas Goldstein, whose law firm, Goldstein & Howe, specializes in Supreme Court practice.

While I am certainly pleased to hear that Rehnquist apparently does not have the worst form of thyroid cancer, his remaining on the Court at this juncture strikes me as incredibly selfish. He has been only sporadically able to do his job and the prospects of that changing seem remote. Even aside from the cancer, the man is 80 years old.

If he cares about the future of the Court–and all previous indications are that he very much does–it is hard to fathom why he would not step down. By retiring now, he would greatly enhance the likelihood that his successor will share his view of the law. After two razor thin elections, there is no guarantee that another Republican will succeed Bush. And the further we get into Bush’s second term, the more likely the Democrats are to try to stall his nominees in hopes of running out the clock.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. sammler says:

    Parlor psychoanalysis: Rehnquist, once he leaves the court, has no aim left in life. He’s too old to even write more than a chapter or two of his memoirs. Retiring, for him, would be like acceding to his own death.

  2. Anderson says:

    Good take, Sammler. It’s also been observed that he’s very near to setting a length-of-tenure record.

    Of course, the yellow-dog Dem in me thinks that Rehnquist considers a Thomas clone too scary a prospect even for him …

  3. Roger says:

    Last night, while listening to a news story about Chief Justice Rehnquist’s announcement that he’s not retiring soon and watchng video of him walking down a sidewalk wearing a Nike derby hat, noted in the included photo. In the back of my mind, I thought there was something about the hat since it seemed so odd on him.

    Then it dawned on me this morning as I saw the photo again. Either Rehnquist needs to rethink wearing that hat or it was a brilliant subtle joke on his part. What’s the slogan we see in just about all the ads for Nike products? “Just Do It.”

  4. Buck says:

    I am elated that the Chief Justice is staying on for now. The challenge and love of the job is probably keeping him alive. The thought of war monger Bush placing two additional Clarence Thomas clones on the court at one time is something the exceeds my worse nightmare. Bush, the cause of thousands of American casualties in Iraq, cannot be given an opportunity to do more harm to the welfare of this country.

  5. Peter says:

    I highly doubt Rehnquist’s decision to stay on is a political maneuver. While he is certainly conservative from an ideological perspective, actions of the court are non-political by tradition and nature (well, they’re supposed to be at least), and with a tenure such as his I am sure he takes that view of the court very seriously. He will certainly not pander to the immediate needs of political parties in deciding when to retire, and instead will base it off of his own views of his ability to fulfill his obligations in the coming term.

    Keep in mind he was undergoing radiation therapy during this past term, which no doubt made him temporarily weak. The media tends to portray him as teetering on the edge of death because of this, which may not be truely representative of his situation. For all we know, after finishing his treatment he may have more energy on the bench in the future.

  6. Anderson says:

    Now do we have a basis for Rehnquist to recuse from the next Nike suit to come along?

  7. Tyryn says:

    Actually, considering what is at stake, I find his actions quite selfless. After all, one nominee by a man who has blatantly lied to the American people is bad enough; that Rehnquist would continue his duties despite personal challenges is admirable. May God grant him strength.

  8. fedwarrior says:

    It’s a life time appointment, till death does he part from that job. He defines the court and has for many years.

  9. Kevin says:

    Perhaps Rehnquist isn’t retiring precisely because he does care about the future of the court.

    It’s pretty damn cocky of you to assume that your ideas on the welfare of the court are his, or that his ought to be your’s.

  10. Carolyn Hanson says:

    I understand that Judge Rehnquist has those gold bars on his robe for vanity reasons. I’ve really had enough of these “big wigs” and their egos. It’s ruining this country.

  11. vittles says:

    I think he staying because with health care benefits and life insurance at stake, who would want to leave their job and lose the benefits or self-pay.

  12. Tim says:

    okay, buck and tyryn, you both need to get your facts straight. Bush is not the cause of thousands of American lives. Even if the number of American casualties is that high, it was not Bush you should be blaming, but the terrorists who have set themselves up against not only us, but the rest of the world as well.

    Also, though I can’t say whether Bush has lied to the American people or not, I can say it’s highly likely. Why? Because EVERY president does. It’s part of his job to ensure the safety of the American public.

    Some of you speak of Bush as if he’s some demonic monster, even invoking the name of God against him. To invoke the name of God against a Christian is hypocrisy, and just plain stupid. Bush is simply doing the best he can to ensure the peace and safety of the American people. It’s a paradox, not an oxymoron, that war is the only way to keep even some semblance of peace such as we enjoy in our homeland, the United States of America.

    And although I do not know what Justice Rehnquist’s viewpoints are and whether or not I would support him, I say it is his choice as it is a life-time appointment. That’s the beauty of America: freedom of speech, press, and choice. But nevertheless, Bush having two slots to fill would in no way be a bad thing. In fact, it would be a great improvement over some former presidents’ choices.


  13. DIANA says:


  14. Vicenta Montoya says:

    Hurray Judge Rehnquist! Continue to refuse to acquiesce to others who believe you should end your public life. I am not a Rehnquist supporter but I admire his desire to continue with his life’s work because his mind is still capable of performing complex analytical tasks. Ageism is so pervasive in our American culture. The original writer’s comments show selfishness and epitomizes the arrogance and narrow mindedness of this administration.