Rehnquist Returns to Supreme Court But Vacancy Watch Continues

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 6, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Rehnquist Returns to Supreme Court But Vacancy Watch Continues Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
January 6, 2005

Washington, DC ( — Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist is back on the job and working part-time in the high court’s chambers after staying at home for two months following an October surgery for thyroid cancer. Though he has returned to work, speculation about whether he will retire soon continues.

A spokesman for the pro-life justice says Rehnquist is splitting his time between continuing to work at home and going to his Supreme Court office.

His return to work and plan to administer the oath of office to returning President George W. Bush leads some to believe the longtime jurist isn’t headed for retirement just yet.

In fact, an inaugural committee spokesman confirmed to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper that Rehnquist still plans to swear in the president.

Pro-life groups were encouraged that the leading pro-life jurist is back at work.

"Chief Justice Rehnquist has long guided the court with prudence and good judgment, and we are encouraged that he now seems ready to continue this vital role," Tom Minnery, vice president of government and public policy for Focus on the Family, commented.

However, the possibility that Rehnquist may retire has led to serious speculation over the last two months.

Abortion advocates were so certain Rehnquist was planning to leave that they issued a press releasing saying his retirement would occur in a matter of days and it asked pro-abortion Americans to rally against the president replacing him with pro-life justices Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas.

Rehnquist is pro-life and was one of the two dissenters in the Roe v. Wade case that allowed abortion. Should he leave, pro-life groups say he must be replaced with a pro-life justice or the court will return to its 7-2 margin in favor of Roe that it had when the case was handed down in 1973.

The current court backs abortion by a 6-3 margin.

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

That procedure led some to speculate that he suffers from a life-threatening form of thyroid cancer, but neither he nor court officials would confirm that.

Rehnquist chose not to participate in decisions during November unless the court found itself with a 4-4 tie. He voted on decisions in December and pro-abortion Justice John Paul Stevens has presided over the court in his absence.

In addition to Rehnquist, associate Judges Sandra Day O’Connor, Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who all 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 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.

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