Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist continued to decline comment yesterday on his medical condition after a suggestion by CBS News commentator Bill Moyers that the justice "owes the country a press conference" to explain it.
Rehnquist was released from George Washington University Hospital Sunday after recovering from what a spokesman there described as a withdrawal symptoms from a reduction in medication he had been taking for severe back pains. The symptoms involved what the spokesman called a temporary loss of mental clarity and perceptual capability. The spokesman would not identify the drug involved but sources later said it was Placidyl, a sleeping pill.
In a CBS Evening News commentary on Wednesday, Moyers said that "for all the sympathy one feels now for Mr. Rehnquist, you can understand why the secrecy surrounding his illness is disturbing and you can agree with the judge of a lower court who was heard to say today that the justice owes the country a press conference."
Moyers said the incident was "very disturbing and made us wonder to what extent the justice's perceptions had also been affected while he was at work. All of us who have had experience with the side effects of prescription drugs can sympathize with Mr. Rehnquist personally. But all of us are not justices of the Supreme Court."
Most Supreme Court justices who have experienced significant medical problems have attempted to keep them secret from the press and public. The most notable incident--to which Moyers referred in his commentary--involved the late Justice William O. Douglas, whose incapacitation toward the end of his court years actually interfered with the court's work.
Those interviewed who have worked closely with Rehnquist in recent months and years have said uniformly that whatever his medical condition, there has been no sign of its affecting his work on the court.