- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist revealed yesterday that he is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments for thyroid cancer, signs that he has a grave form of the disease and probably will not return to the bench soon.

The election-eve disclosure by the 80-year-old underscores the near certainty that the next president will make at least one appointment to the Supreme Court, and probably more.

Chief Justice Rehnquist had planned to join his colleagues when they returned to hear arguments yesterday after a two-week break. Instead, he issued a statement from home about the treatment he’s receiving. The statement said he plans to work from home, but does not mention leaving the court.

Chief Justice Rehnquist did not disclose which type of thyroid cancer he has, how far it has progressed, or his prognosis.

Dr. Ann M. Gillenwater of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston said the combination of chemotherapy and radiation is the usual treatment for anaplastic thyroid cancer, a fast-growing form that can kill quickly.

About 80 percent of people with that type of cancer die within a year, even with treatment, according to the Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy.

“Unfortunately, it rarely responds very well, and this is just a holding action for most patients,” said Dr. Herman Kattlove of the American Cancer Society.

Chief Justice Rehnquist’s statement was a more somber announcement than the one a week ago, when he first made public that he had been hospitalized for cancer treatment but said he planned to be back at work in a week.

“According to my doctors, my plan to return to the office today [Monday] was too optimistic,” said Chief Justice Rehnquist, who spent a week in the hospital. “While at home, I am working on court matters, including opinions for cases already argued. I am, and will, continue to be in close contact with my colleagues, my law clerks and members of the Supreme Court staff.”

News of Chief Justice Rehnquist’s cancer has energized conservative and liberal groups, which have tried to draw voters’ attention to the court’s delicate balance on issues such as abortion, affirmative action and the death penalty.

The spotlight would have been heightened in the final week of the campaign if Chief Justice Rehnquist had been more forthcoming about his condition, said Dennis Hutchinson, a Supreme Court expert at the University of Chicago Law School.

“He doesn’t want to be a factor” in the election, Mr. Hutchinson said. “The one thing all members of the court hate is the assumption that they are partisan or sensitive to partisan politics.”

Dave Rohde, a political science professor at Michigan State University, said Chief Justice Rehnquist’s illness probably will not sway many last-minute, undecided voters.

“This is not in the top tier of issues for voters. They’re concerned about Iraq and terrorism and the economy and much less about this,” he said.

Chief Justice Rehnquist, a Republican, has been the court’s conservative leader for a generation. He voted with the other four conservative justices in the 5-4 Bush v. Gore ruling that decided the last presidential election. He has said he would be more likely to retire with a Republican in the White House.

In his absence yesterday, Justice John Paul Stevens, 84, presided over the court. The court’s oldest member said Chief Justice Rehnquist still could vote in cases being argued this week, after reviewing transcripts and briefs.

No one has left the court since 1994, a modern record. Justice Stevens and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 74, are considered those most likely to step aside after Chief Justice Rehnquist.

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