Rehnquist Says He's Staying

Chief Justice William Rehnquist leaves his home on Friday, June 24, 2005 in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)
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.

"I want to put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors of my imminent retirement," Rehnquist, 80, and ailing with thyroid cancer, said in a statement obtained by The Associated Press. "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.

The 80-year-old Rehnquist, who has thyroid cancer, had been taken by ambulance to Virginia Hospital Center on Tuesday for tests and observation. Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said he was released and at home around midday Thursday.

The health setback added new intrigue to the rampant guessing game about his retirement prospects. Rehnquist has been on the Supreme Court 33 years.

"This hospitalization has to shake his faith a little bit," said Stephen Wermiel, an American University law professor who specializes in the Supreme Court.

Rehnquist was first hospitalized in October, when he underwent a tracheotomy. He had said very little publicly about his prognosis and nothing about his future at the court. He's received chemotherapy and radiation.

Speculation about his future on the court picked up substantially when Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor earlier this month announced her retirement. Rehnquist had been widely believed the most likely justice to step down.

A month ago, most court watchers thought Rehnquist's retirement was inevitable. But many justices in history have kept working until the end. There have been just 15 previous chief justices, and eight served until their deaths.

"I understand why he wouldn't want to retire. If he quit he'd feel like he was taking one step in the grave," said Richard Friedman, a law professor at the University of Michigan. "He's probably enjoying all the fuss."

President Bush initially was unaware of Rehnquist's hospitalization, spokesman Scott McClellan said. Mr. Bush was in the Oval Office when Andy Card, the White House chief of staff, and McClellan informed him at midafternoon of news reports that Rehnquist was ill.

There was no indication the news would affect the president's selection of a candidate — or the timing of an announcement — for replacing Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who announced earlier this month that she was stepping down.

In a related development, CBS News Correspondent Bob Fuss reports, the so-called "Gang of 14," the seven moderate senators from each party who forced a halt to the fierce filibuster battle over judges, is staying in business for the upcoming confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee.

Fuss reports they met this morning and told reporters they are happy Mr. Bush is consulting with senators before choosing someone - something they pointedly had recommended. And while outside groups gear up for a major political battle, this suddenly influential group of senators says it still hopes the nominee the president chooses can win bi-partisan support.

  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for