Rehnquist Says He’ll Stay on Supreme Court
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:
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 Ã¢€” 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.
[…] 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.