Rehnquist fever stirs up speculation about retirement

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Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was taken by ambulance to an Arlington hospital yesterday with a fever, but was released promptly.

The brief visit marks his second trip to the hospital in a month and, although much shorter than the two-night stay in July, it still is likely to spawn further speculation that his retirement from the high court could come at any time.

“The chief justice developed a fever today,” Supreme Court spokesman Ed Turner said in a brief statement last night. “He was taken to Virginia Hospital Center for evaluation.”

Mr. Turner later said the chief justice was evaluated and allowed to go home.

Chief Justice Rehnquist, 80, was diagnosed last year with thyroid cancer and has undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Throughout, the chief justice has maintained a full work schedule and was at the court earlier yesterday.

In July, Chief Justice Rehnquist was admitted to the hospital for two days with the same symptoms.

Then, speculation reached a fevered pitch that he would step down after 33 years on the court and 19 years as chief justice. But instead, he stayed on.

“I want to put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors of my imminent retirement,” he said upon his release from that hospital stay. “I will continue to perform my duties as chief justice as long as my health permits.”

If Chief Justice Rehnquist retires, he will give President Bush a second vacancy on the Supreme Court to fill and would begin anew all the political maneuvering on both sides to find a replacement.

The confirmation process for replacing Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who announced her retirement last month, has been smoother than many expected.

Federal Judge John G. Roberts Jr., her proposed replacement, was applauded by conservatives. But yesterday, the Los Angeles Times reported that he had helped a “gay rights” group win one of the most important Supreme Court cases on homosexuality.

Although Judge Roberts did not write briefs or become deeply involved in Romer v. Evans, which was argued in 1995 and decided in 1996, he did perform pro bono help for Lambda Legal, reviewing filings and helping prepare oral arguments. He also played the role of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in a mock trial, the Times said.

Judge Roberts was then one of the premier Supreme Court lawyers in the country, working at the Washington firm Hogan & Hartson.

The case, which the homosexual-rights group won on a 6-3 ruling, involved a voter-approved state constitutional amendment in Colorado that barred municipal and local governments from making homosexuals a protected class under civil rights laws.

Conservatives yesterday downplayed the significance of his involvement.

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