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Rehnquist says
he'll stay on Supreme Court

Rehnquist says
he'll stay on Supreme Court

Rehnquist

Rehnquist quells rumors by announcing he plans to continue working.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist's pledge to continue working despite his thyroid cancer leaves the White House with just one Supreme Court seat to fill, suddenly changing the dynamic of the summer confirmation battle. The prospects of a double high court vacancy had much of Washington in a frenzy. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced earlier this month that she was stepping down, and the retirement of 80-year-old Rehnquist was thought to be next. "I want to put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors of my imminent retirement," Rehnquist said in a statement first disclosed by the Associated Press late Thursday and later confirmed by the court. Rehnquist said he would "continue to perform my duties as chief justice as long as my health permits." O'Connor's retirement creates the first Supreme Court vacancy of George W. Bush's presidency, and even one new appointment to the court has the potential to tip the balance on critical issues such as abortion, affirmative action, and gay rights. Richard Garnett, a Notre Dame law professor and former Rehnquist law clerk, says, "The chief justice's decision liberates the president. The question mark that was hanging over the process is now gone. President Bush has fewer impediments in doing what he has said all along he was going to do--nominate a conservative justice in the mold of Justice Scalia." But Supreme Court historian David Garrow says Bush "has to do something other than a white male appellate judge: whether it is a woman, whether it's Hispanic, whether it's someone outside the judicial box." Rehnquist has been battling thyroid cancer, and medical experts initially had speculated that he probably had the deadly anaplastic form of the disease, based on the chemotherapy-radiation treatment he began receiving in October. But now that seems less likely. "The prognosis for that is so poor. Most patients succumb very quickly--within three to six months," says Dr. Mark Urken, a cancer expert at Beth Israel Hospital in New York. O'Connor had announced her retirement unexpectedly as the White House, the Senate, and outside groups were preparing for the chief justice to leave the court. The White House expanded its list of candidates in looking for a replacement for O'Connor, the first female justice and a moderate conservative. Dual vacancies might have given Bush the political flexibility to please more than one constituency. Now that just one seat is vacant, Bush is likely to come under intense pressure from his political base to nominate a hard-line conservative. "It ratchets up the pressure for this pick," Duke University professor Erwin Chemerinsky says. (AP)

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