WASHINGTON (BP)–Chief Justice William Rehnquist put an end to the watch for his supposedly imminent retirement by announcing July 14 he had no plans to step down from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Rehnquist’s statement means President Bush, for the time being, has only one spot to fill on the high court. Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement July 1.
In a written release, Rehnquist said, “I want to put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors of my imminent retirement. I am not about to announce my retirement. I will continue to perform my duties as chief justice as long as my health permits.”
The chief justice’s statement, which was obtained by the Associated Press, came hours after he left a northern Virginia hospital following a two-night stay for a fever. Since October, Rehnquist, 80, has been undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer.
The illness prompted months of rumors that Rehnquist would retire after the court’s term, which ended June 27. Instead, O’Connor, 75, announced her retirement, setting off speculation about the identity of Bush’s nominee, while rumors still floated about the chief justice’s plans.
The White House has consulted with members of the Senate on the nomination, even as some Democrats have threatened an all-out battle against any selection they consider too conservative. Bush has said he plans to interview prospective nominees personally and wants to have a new justice confirmed before the court begins its term Oct. 3.
The Family Research Council has announced it will sponsor a simulcast rally about the Supreme Court from Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville. “Justice Sunday II” will be held Sunday, Aug. 14, at 6 p.m. Central time.
Among the speakers will be Zell Miller, former Democratic senator from Georgia; James Dobson of Focus on the Family; Tony Perkins of FRC; Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship; Phyllis Schlafly of Eagle Forum; Bill Donohue of the Catholic League and Two Rivers pastor Jerry Sutton. Country singer Lee Greenwood and Christian artist Rebecca St. James will perform.
More information is available at FRC’s website, www.frc.org.
In April, the FRC-sponsored “Justice Sunday” called for an end to Senate filibusters of federal appeals court nominees. That event was held at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.
The White House expressed gratitude Rehnquist would remain on the court. “The chief justice is doing an outstanding job and we are pleased he will continue his great service to the nation,” press secretary Scott McClellan said, according to the Associated Press.
President Nixon nominated Rehnquist to the Supreme Court, and the assistant attorney general began his service as a justice in 1972. President Reagan selected Rehnquist as chief justice in 1986.
Rehnquist’s refusal to retire for the time being keeps a solid pro-life vote on the nine-member court. He was one of only two dissenters to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Twice during Rehnquist’s tenure as chief justice, it appeared he had marshaled a majority to strike a death blow to Roe, according to retired justices’ personal papers released later. In 1989, however, O’Connor abandoned what appeared to be a majority attack on Roe, and in 1992, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy did the same.
Abortion will be a primary issue in what is expected to be a battle over the confirmation of a replacement for O’Connor. She had endorsed Roe and was the deciding vote in a 2000 ruling striking down a state ban on the hideous procedure known as partial-birth abortion. O’Connor was often a swing vote who frequently departed from the court’s conservatives on issues such as abortion and public religious expression.
Reagan nominated O’Connor, the first woman ever to serve on the high court, in 1981.
Included in a lengthy list of potential Bush nominees mentioned by various sources are numerous federal appeals court judges, some U.S. senators and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Pro-life advocates would not embrace Gonzales like they apparently would most other selections. For one thing, as a member of the Texas Supreme Court, Gonzales voted with the majority in a decision providing what pro-lifers considered a liberal interpretation of a law requiring parental notification for a minor’s abortion.
The confirmation process will take place against a background of divisiveness over federal appeals court nominees the last four years. Senate Democrats have filibustered several of Bush’s appellate nominees. Some finally received confirmation in May and June after seven members of each party agreed on a compromise. Some other nominees, however, still remain as targets for filibusters in an effort to prevent their confirmations.