Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist Talks Retirement, Abortion Scramble Begins

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 11, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist Talks Retirement, Abortion Scramble Begins

by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 11, 2004

Washington, DC ( — In an interview with NBC’s "Today" show, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist discussed his possible retirement soon. His remarks set off a scramble by groups on both sides of the abortion debate discussing the importance of replacing the only remaining Roe v. Wade dissenter on the court with another pro-life judge.

"At age 79 you can’t help but think about retirement,” Rehnquist told NBC’s "Today” show in an interview airing Wednesday. "Your life expectancy isn’t what it once was. And you’ve got to think about the possibility of retirement.”

Rehnquist refused to say whether he will retire this year or to provide any timetable as to when he will retire.

The comments prompted NARAL to pledge "an aggressive campaign to block any anti-choice nominee to replace him."

"Any new Supreme Court justice will have a profound impact on the future of privacy rights and reproductive freedom in this country," NARAL president Kate Michelman said. "If the Chief Justice does step down, you can rest assured that George Bush will not have a free pass to replace him with another anti-choice judicial activist."

Pro-life groups said Rehnquist’s comments underscore the importance of the presidential election and the need to re-elect Bush.

"This should serve to remind all pro-lifers that if John Kerry is elected President, he has pledged to appoint only pro-abortion judges to the Supreme Court," David O’Steen, executive director of National Right to Life, told

Michelman said her group is also worried about the possibility of elevating the other pro-life justices, Atonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas, to the Chief Justice position.

Rehnquist has served on the court since 1972 and, along with Justice Byron White, was one of only two dissenters in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that allowed abortion.

It has been more than a decade since there has been a vacancy on the nation’s high court, but no one is expected to step down this year and cause a national battle during a presidential election year.

However, Rehnquist has made it known in the past that he wants to retire during a Republican presidency to increase the chances he will be replaced with someone ideologically similar. That may prompt him to retire if he is concerned Kerry will defeat Bush in November.

Justices John Paul Stevens and Sandra Day O’Connor have also been the subjects of discussion as the next justices to potentially retire from the court. Both support the Roe v. Wade decision and would be opportunities to add pro-life judges to the court.