Chief Justice Rehnquist has died

(Gold9472: deh... Deh... DEH...)

Saturday, September 3, 2005; Posted: 11:59 p.m. EDT (03:59 GMT)

Rehnquist, who helped shift the U.S. Supreme Court toward a more conservative ideology and strongly supported states' rights during his three decades on the bench, has died.

Rehnquist, who presided over the court for nearly 19 years, was 80.

Rehnquist, who had been receiving chemotherapy and radiation for thyroid cancer, died at his suburban Virginia home surrounded by his three children, a court spokeswoman said.

President Bush learned of the death shortly before 11 p.m. Saturday, the White House said.

"The president and Mrs. Bush are deeply saddened by the passing of the chief justice," according to a written statement. It said Bush planned to make a statement Sunday morning.

CNN producer Bill Mears said Rehnquist "was working in his office until a few weeks ago. He loved his job and continued to work until the very end."

The chief justice was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in October 2004, not long after the 2004-2005 court session began, and received outpatient radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

Rehnquist adjourned the court in late June amid speculation that he would resign before justices reconvened in October for the new term. He quashed that idea in July, hours after he left a hospital where he was treated for a fever.

"I want to put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors of my imminent retirement," he said in a written statement. "I am not about to announce my retirement. I will continue to perform my duties as chief justice as long as my health permits." He returned to work the following day.

Ruth Wedgwood, a constitutional lawyer and close friend of Rehnquist, said, "He was an interesting man. He had an interesting life. Over time, I think he became a much more unifying figure in the court."

His death, she said, puts a "great burden" on the Senate, which will be responsible for confirming a replacement.

Rehnquist's announcement about continuing to work followed the surprise retirement of 75-year-old Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on July 1.

After Rehnquist began his cancer treatments, he worked at home until March 21, causing him to miss oral arguments in a number of cases. He attended President Bush's inauguration January 20 to administer the oath of office, but stayed on the platform for less than 15 minutes.

On his first day back at work in March with the other justices, Rehnquist showed no emotion, paid sharp attention to the argument presented in the first case and asked eight or nine technical questions. His voice was fairly strong; he had a tracheotomy tube in his throat to assist his breathing.

Rehnquist was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1972 by President Nixon and was elevated to chief justice in 1986 by President Reagan, replacing Warren Burger.

In that role, he led the closed-door conferences where justices discuss and vote on cases; assigned who wrote the majority rulings; managed the docket; controlled open court arguments; and supervised the 300 or so court employees, including clerks, secretaries, police and support staff.

Rehnquist, who belonged to a loose, 5-4 conservative majority, was the second-oldest man to preside over the nation's highest court.

Early in his tenure, he often was the lone dissenter, despite the presence of two other Republican appointees. He served on the bench under seven presidents.

David Yalof, a constitutional law professor at the University of Connecticut, credited Rehnquist with moving the court in a consistent, conservative direction.

"He was able over time to gather colleagues together cordially, manage tension, build a majority and turn them over to his point of view," Yalof said.

Rehnquist followed the legal philosophy of judicial restraint, which interprets the U.S. Constitution narrowly.

He believed the only rights protected by the Constitution are those specifically named, and that justices should consider the framers' original intent when making rulings.

Shortly after Nixon named him as an associate justice, Rehnquist and Justice Byron White were the only dissenters in the landmark Roe v. Wade case (1973), which established that a woman's right to an abortion was protected under a woman's right to privacy.

"To reach its result, the court necessarily has had to find within the scope of the 14th Amendment a right that was apparently completely unknown to the drafters of the amendment," Rehnquist wrote in his dissent.

The chief justice strongly supported states' rights, and usually took a state's side when it was sued over violating federal law on issues such as age discrimination or the Americans with Disabilities Act.

He supported the death penalty, homosexual rights and free speech.

In 2003, Rehnquist broke ranks with fellow conservatives by offering a rare rebuke against states' rights.

In the Hibbs case, a state worker was given the right to sue Nevada officials under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act for denying him time to care for his ailing wife. Rehnquist contended Congress had the right to address a record of sex discrimination against women and men in the workplace.

"He showed real diplomacy in moderating his viewpoint to satisfy the larger concerns of the court, to put his stamp on a ruling with wide impact," said Yalof.

In 1999, Rehnquist became the second chief justice in U.S. history to preside over a presidential impeachment -- that of President Bill Clinton, who was acquitted.

Rehnquist was a student of the court when he wasn't there.

He wrote books on its history and on the impeachments of Justice Samuel Chase and President Andrew Johnson.

Jay Jorgensen, a 1999 judicial clerk for Rehnquist, said Rehnquist was a gifted administrator.

"You have to give credit to his unbelievable success moving the justices to where he always believed they should go," said Thomas Goldstein, a leading Supreme Court litigator.

Having already sat on the court for 14 years, Rehnquist quickly matured in the role of chief justice. He cut the number of cases the court agreed to hear, streamlined conferences and sought clearer, strongly reasoned opinions.

Jay Jorgensen, a former clerk for the chief justice, said it was the little things Rehnquist did that built personal trust, loyalty and respect among justices who were often sharply divided ideologically.

"He set up a system during conferences where every justice, one by one, in order of seniority, is allowed to weigh in on a case," Jorgensen said. "There is no free-for-all debate, the chief justice does not allow bickering."

Still, legal scholars agree Rehnquist's legacy has some holes.

Despite the court chipping away slightly at the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, the right to an abortion remains the law of the land.

"On affirmative action and Miranda rights, among other things, Rehnquist hasn't gotten everything he wanted," said Tom Goldstein, a partner in a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that handles only Supreme Court cases.

"Across the board there are disappointments. The stakes remain high, there are still many 5-4 votes, but he has been successful keeping the individual battles from turning into larger wars."

William Hubbs Rehnquist was born in Shorewood, a suburb of Milwaukee, on October 1, 1924. His father was a paper salesman. Rehnquist married Natalie Cornell of San Diego, and they had a son and two daughters.

After serving in the Air Force in World War II, Rehnquist attended Stanford University, where he earned a bachelor's degree, followed by a master's in political science in 1948. He received another master's in government at Harvard in 1950, before returning to Stanford for a law degree. He graduated first in his class in 1952.

His friends described Rehnquist as warm and witty, with a love for poker.

Jorgensen recalled a small party Rehnquist hosted at his home with former clerks.

"We were playing charades, and he was very good at it -- funny, animated and enormously sharp," he said, "but also a stickler we play by the rules, and ensuring the fairness of the game. That sums up what kind of person he is, inside and outside the court."