Rehnquist Unable to Return to Supreme Court, Development Highlights Abortion

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 1, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Rehnquist Unable to Return to Supreme Court, Development Highlights Abortion

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 1, 2004

Washington, DC ( — In a development that highlights the importance of the issue of abortion in Tuesday’s presidential election, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist said Monday he is unable to return to the court this week as previously expected.

Justice Rehnquist was been hospitalized for thyroid cancer and was treated for the disease at Bethesda Naval Hospital. He was supposed to return to the court this week.

Rehnquist, who is pro-life and was one of the two dissenters in the Roe v. Wade case that allowed abortions, said he would continue working at home until doctors cleared him to return to the high court.

"According to my doctors, my plan to return to the office today was too optimistic," he said in a statement. "While at home, I am working on court matters, including opinions for cases already argued. I am, and will, continue to be in close contact with my colleagues, my law clerks, and members of the Supreme Court staff."

Rehnquist underwent a tracheotomy, a surgical procedure in which a tube is inserted into the throat to aid in breathing.

The development puts a renewed focus on the presidential race and the kind of judges President Bush and John Kerry would select as the next president.

In addition to Rehnquist, associate Judges Sandra Day O’Connor, John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who back abortion, are all considered likely retirees over the next few years.

All three are advancing in age, like the 80 year-old Rehnquist, and they have all been treated for cancer. Justice John Paul Stevens, the oldest at 84, has had prostate cancer while Justice Sandra Day O’Connor had breast cancer and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had colon cancer.

In Rehnquist’s absence, Stevens is presiding over the nation’s top court.

Rehnquist has been the Chief Justice since 1986. Should he retire, President Bush is expected to elevate either Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia, more likely Thomas, to the top justice position.

In 1973, the Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion by a 7-2 vote. The current court backs abortion by a 6-3 margin.

If President Bush appoints just two new pro-life judges to the court, that could shift the margin enough to possibly overturn Roe. Bush has already appointed numerous pro-life judges to federal courts and a NARAL analysis shows only two of 200 judges Bush has appointed showing any hint of backing legal abortion.

Should John Kerry be elected, he has promised to only appoint judges that will affirm the pro-abortion case. If he replaces retiring pro-abortion judges with new ones, who will likely serve for decades, abortion could remain legal for as much as thirty years.

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