Chief Justice Rehnquist Dies at His Home By GINA HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer
2 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died Saturday evening at his home in suburban Virginia, said Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg.
A statement from the spokeswoman said he was surrounded by his three children when he died in Arlington.
"The Chief Justice battled thyroid cancer since being diagnosed last October and continued to perform his dues on the court until a precipitous decline in his health the last couple of days," she said.
Rehnquist was appointed to the Supreme Court as an associate justice in 1971 by President Nixon and took his seat on Jan. 7, 1982. He was elevated to chief justice by President Reagan in 1986.
His death ends a remarkable 33-year Supreme Court career during which Rehnquist oversaw the court's conservative shift, presided over an impeachment trial and helped decide a presidential election.
The death President Bush his second court opening within pour months and sets up what's expected to be an even more bruising Senate confirmation battle than that of John Roberts.
It was not immediately clear what impact Rehnquist's death would have on confirmation hearings for Roberts, scheduled to begin Tuesday.
Rehnquist, 80 and ill with cancer, presided over President Clinton's impeachment trial in 1999, helped settle the 2000 presidential election in Bush's favor, and fashioned decisions over the years that diluted the powers of the federal government while strengthening those of the states.
Arberg said plans regarding funeral arrangements would be forthcoming.
Bush was notified of Rehnquist's death shortly before 11 p.m. EDT.
"President Bush and Mrs. Bush are saddened by the news," said White House counselor Dan Bartlett. "It's a tremendous loss for our nation." The president was expected to make a personal statement about Rehnquist on Sunday.
The chief justice passed up a chance to step down over the summer, which would have given the Senate a chance to confirm his successor while the court was out of session, and instead Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement to spend time with her ill husband. Bush chose Roberts, a former Rehnquist clerk and friend, to replace O'Connor.
Rehnquist said in July that he wanted to stay on the bench as long as his health would allow.
The president could elevate to chief justice one of the court's conservatives, such as Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas, but it's more likely he will choose someone from outside the court.
Possible replacements include Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and federal courts of appeals judges J. Michael Luttig, Edith Clement, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Michael McConnell, Emilio Garza, and James Harvie Wilkinson III. Others mentioned are former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, lawyer Miguel Estrada and former deputy attorney general Larry Thompson.
Rehnquist announced last October that he had thyroid cancer. He had a trachea tube inserted to help him breathe and underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Details of the chief justice's illness and his plans had been tightly guarded. He looked frail at Bush's inauguration in January and missed five months of court sessions before returning to the bench in March.
On the court's final meeting day of the last term, June 27, Rehnquist appeared gaunt and had difficulty as he announced the last decision of the term an opinion he wrote upholding a Ten Commandments display in Texas. His breathing was labored, and he kept the explanation short.
He had no public appearances over the summer, although he was filmed by television crews in July as he left the hospital following two nights for treatment of a fever.
Rehnquist had an extraordinary career, with many historic milestones.
In 1999, he presided over Bill Clinton's impeachment trial from the presiding officer's chair seat in the Senate, something only one other chief justice had done. A year later he was one of five Republican-nominated justices who voted to stop presidential ballot recounts in Florida, effectively deciding the election for Bush over Democrat Al Gore.
"The Supreme Court of Florida ordered recounts of tens of thousands of so-called `undervotes' spread through 64 of the state's 67 counties. This was done in a search for elusive perhaps delusive certainty as to the exact count of 6 million votes," he wrote.
Rehnquist, who championed states' rights and helped speed up executions, is the only member still on the court who voted on Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion. He opposed that decision, writing: "Even today, when society's views on abortion are changing, the very existence of the debate is evidence that the `right' to an abortion is not so universally accepted as (Roe) would have us believe."