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Mary Shomon

Rehnquist Released From Hospital: Court Says He'll Be Back on Bench Monday

By October 29, 2004

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U.S. Chief Justice William Rehnquist was released Friday October 29th from Bethesda Naval Hospital, a week after being admitted for thyroid cancer, and a subsequent tracheotomy on Saturday October 23. To date, the Court has still not released any details regarding the type of thyroid cancer affecting Rehnquist, the severity or staging of the cancer, why the Chief Justice required the unusual procedure of a tracheotomy for thyroid cancer, and whether he will indeed be back at work this Monday November 1, the day before the general election, as initially stated.

Thyroid cancer is generally treatable, but can be more aggressive in older men. Tracheotomy -- the only treatment Rehnquist received that was publicly announced -- is a procedurely rarely used for thyroid cancer, and only then, when breathing is compromised, usually by an advanced or inoperable tumor.

Rehnquist, who is 80, has served on the Supreme Court since 1972. The news of Rehnquist's thyroid cancer focused national attention on the likely opportunity of the 2004 President elect to nominate a judge to the court, as well as the role of the Court itself in the Presidential election process. The Supreme Court controversially decided the outcome of the disputed 2000 presidential election, after their split decision favored George W. Bush. Questions about Rehnquist's condition and its severeity also raised concerns regarding his ability to continue in his capacity on the court, and fitness to return to the bench so quickly.

Justice Clarence Thomas told law students at the University of Kansas on Thursday that he expected Rehnquist to be back at the court next week, and said that justices have a tendency to work even when they're sick. According to Reuters, various opinions released by the Court this week indicate that even from the hospital, Rehnquist was apparently working this past week while in the hospital.

The fact that the Court's earlier announcement indicated that Rehnquist inteded to return to the bench on Monday, coupled by the announcement today that he is being released from the hospital, suggest that he is trying to discourage any speculation about the seriousness of his condition, his fitness to serve on the bench, and the likelihood of his retirement.

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