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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.
Anyone following his activities for the past several months will not find themselves surprised by his passing. He showed no inclination to retire after 34 years on the Court, the final 19 as Chief Justice. His illness made retirement rather pointless, which he apparently sensed; what kind of retirement would he have had? Instead, he tried to outlast his illness, perhaps to outlast the Roberts confirmation.
His death will set off a new round of guesswork on a new nominee to the Supreme Court, but will also put pressure on the Senate to expedite Roberts through the confirmation process. Having one opening on the first Monday in October would have created enough political embarrassment for the Senate, but allowing two will create too much blowback for the moderates, especially those in vulnerable states. A few Senators will have to let their few minutes of Judiciary Committee inquisition satisfy their need for a pound of conservative flesh.
My prediction: Bush will have a nominee by the end of September, and the Senate will have the confirmation hearings in late October or early November.Sphere It View blog reactions
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