The Supreme Court has heard its last argument of the session. Now the question is whether ailing Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist has heard the last argument of his 33-year career on the high court.
Rehnquist, 80, has been the focus of retirement speculation since disclosing in October that he had thyroid cancer. He defied the expectations of many — and stopped talk of an imminent retirement — by returning to full-time work after undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.
But he remains frail and now that the Court is in the homestretch of its term, speculation about his future is beginning again.
Rehnquist has not spoken publicly about his plans, though the sentiment of Court observers is widespread that he will step down and give the Court its first opening since 1994. What is unclear is the timing.
“This is a man that thinks in the court’s institutional best interests,” said David J. Garrow, an Emory University law professor and Supreme Court historian. “That points toward making an announcement early enough so the nomination and confirmation process for his successor can be completed so there will be a full bench come October,” when the next Supreme Court term begins.