US Chief Justice Rehnquist dies from cancer
WASHINGTON--William Rehnquist, chief justice and a leading conservative voice on the US Supreme Court, died Saturday after losing a battle with thyroid cancer, setting up a new political battle for President George W. Bush over the makeup of the judiciary.
Rehnquist, the 16th chief justice of the United States, "died this evening at his home in Arlington, Virginia, surrounded by his three children," the court said in a statement.
He was first diagnosed with cancer in October but had kept working up to the final days of his life.
The news was delivered to Bush shortly late Saturday night, the White House said.
"The president and Mrs. Bush are deeply saddened at the passing of Chief Justice Rehnquist," spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo said. "His family is in their thoughts and prayers." The president was to make a formal comment on Sunday.
Coming on the heels of the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in July, Rehnquist's death broadens the political fight over the makeup of the Supreme Court, which plays a key role in shaping America's political and social landscape.
Conservative federal appeals court judge John Roberts has been named by Bush to replace O'Connor.
But although his initial reception on Capital Hill was positive, Roberts is expected to face a tough confirmation hearing, during which his positions on issues ranging from abortion to the role of government will be closely scrutinized.
The Congress hearings are scheduled to start this week.
Rehnquist's passing means the president will have wage a second major political battle over a successor, who is likely to be a social conservative like Rehnquist.
The most mentioned name to become chief justice is Antonin Scalia, a pillar of the Supreme Court's conservative faction.
Rehnquist had been in and out of hospital ever since his condition was diagnosed. But with rumors about his retirement swirling, Renhquist moved forcefully to quash them in July, insisting he would not retire and that he intended to "continue to perform my duties as chief justice as long as my health permits."
Rehnquist was first appointed to the Supreme Court in 1971 by President Richard Nixon and took his seat on January 7, 1972.
He was elevated to chief justice by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.
Rehnquist was a strong opponent of abortion, gay rights, gun control, and affirmative action for minorities.
A fierce defender of the death penalty, Rehnquist often wrote a divergent opinion when in a minority of one, earning himself the title "Lone Ranger."
Rehnquist was one of two dissenters in the key Roe vs Wade case in 1973 which recognized abortion as a constitutional right.
In 1995, he wrote the majority opinion striking down a federal law ordering a "gun-free zone" around state schools, in a landmark decision preserving the rights of individual states.
In 1999, he presided over the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in the Senate over accusations that he lied about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
A year later, Rehnquist and four other Republican-nominated justices, ordered the end of the presidential election ballot recount in Florida, giving the presidency to George W. Bush.
Born October 1, 1924, William Hubbs Rehnquist grew up in Shorewood, in the midwestern state of Wisconsin.
The son of an affluent wholesale paper salesman, he joined the Army Air Corps in 1943 and served in North Africa. Upon his return to the United States, he earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in political science from Stanford University in California.
Rehnquist attended Harvard University for a year and earned another master's degree before returning to Stanford to study law. He graduated in 1952 at the top of his class.
The former chief justice is survived by his three children: Janet Rehnquist, James Rehnquist and Nancy Spears as well as his sister, Jean Larin. His wife, Natalie Rehnquist, died in 1991.