Rehnquist Is Hospitalized With Fever

By Charles Lane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 14, 2005

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who has thyroid cancer, was admitted to Arlington Hospital complaining of a fever Tuesday night, the Supreme Court said yesterday.

Rehnquist, 80, was taken to the hospital by ambulance and spent yesterday resting and undergoing tests, said Kathy Arberg, a court spokeswoman.

Reporters who were camped out in front of Rehnquist's house because of recent rumors that he will retire soon saw court police carrying out the chief justice's cane, a shirt, shoes and a pair of trousers, apparently to take to the hospital. After fielding questions about the unusual movements, the court announced Rehnquist's hospitalization.

Doctors interviewed yesterday said fever-producing infections are common in patients who, like the chief justice, have a surgically made opening in their throats to permit breathing.

The opening, known as a tracheostomy, increases the risk of infection in the trachea, bronchial tubes and lungs.

"It is probably something that could be readily treated and wouldn't require hospitalization for long," said Steven I. Sherman, a thyroid cancer specialist at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, who noted that he has no direct knowledge of the chief justice's case.

But the events reignited speculation about how long Rehnquist's health will permit him to remain on the court. If the chief justice were to follow Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor into retirement, President Bush would have a chance to name two justices at once -- setting the stage for what could be an epic confirmation struggle in the Senate. Washington is following each development and rumor with frenzied interest.

"Among serious court-watchers and political junkies -- and some of us are at the crossroads of those two -- this is more high drama than we want," said Todd F. Gaziano, director of the Center for Legal & Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation. "We're almost at the punch-drunk stage."

Like other conservative activists, Gaziano said he has heard "strong speculation that the White House is waiting for Rehnquist to let them know something before it shows its cards on an O'Connor nomination -- or they know something" already and have held back in deference.

Before O'Connor's announcement July 1, White House officials had signaled that they would move quickly to fill a court vacancy -- which most people at the time expected to be created by the ailing Rehnquist. But Bush has pushed off a decision for two weeks already and many strategists now expect no nominee to be named until July 26 or 27.

That has caused consternation even among some of the advisers closest to the White House. "I don't understand the game plan," said one, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve relations with Bush aides.

Administration officials would not discuss the impact of the chief justice's latest illness or speculate on whether or when he might retire. "It's going to come when it comes," one official said. "If it comes, we'll be ready."

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