Reporter Says Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist in Very Poor Health

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 14, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Reporter Says Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist in Very Poor Health Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
January 14, 2005

Washington, DC ( — The health of Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist has been a closely guarded secret and few have seen the ailing judge in public following an October surgery for thyroid cancer. Should Rehnquist step down from the court, advocates on both sides of the abortion debate are prepared for a tremendous battle to replace him.

New York Post reporter Vincent Morris happened to run into Rehnquist at the Supreme Court the other day. Morris described the longtime pro-life judge as "very, very ill" as he saw aides push him in a wheelchair in the Supreme Court basement.

Morris said it was clear to him why Rehnquist has been holed up at home following the surgery and hasn’t been seen in public.

"Rehnquist was hunched over in his wheelchair, an old hunting cap pulled down low over his ears to cover up his blotchy skin and near baldness, possibly the result of the aggressive treatment he’s getting for his thyroid cancer," Morris explained.

"His eyes looked sunken and lifeless. A plastic collar was wrapped tightly around his neck, where his throat had been opened recently for a tracheotomy," Morris added."

Despite his condition, Rehnquist is still slated to swear in President Bush as he takes the oath of office to begin his second term.

According to the New York Post, Rehnquist took a private viewing of the platform on which the ceremony will be held. Morris writes that the jurist had difficulty getting out of the wheelchair to look around.

Though he has returned to work, speculation about whether Rehnquist will retire soon continues.

Abortion advocates were so certain Rehnquist was planning to leave that they issued a press release last month saying his retirement would occur in a matter of days and 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.

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.