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Rehnquist Absent from Bench, Undergoes Cancer Treatment

Rehnquist, who was admitted to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland on Oct. 22 and released a week later after receiving a tracheotomy because of the cancer, was expected to join the other eight justices on Monday following the high court’s two-week recess.

Instead, the 80-year-old chief justice issued a statement saying, “I underwent a tracheotomy nine days ago and, at the suggestion of my doctors, am continuing to recuperate at home.”

The announcement of Rehnquist’s cancer treatment a week ago drew attention to the powerful role in politics of the Supreme Court, which decided the 2000 presidential election recount in President George W. Bush’s favor.

The winner of Tuesday’s election could wind up making several appointments to the High Court, which has been closely divided between conservative and liberal factions.

Supreme Court justices serve until they die or retire. The last change in the court’s composition took place 10 years ago.

Rehnquist did not indicate in his statement when he may return to the bench.

“While at home, I am working on court matters, including opinions for cases already argued,” he wrote, according to the Associated Press. “I am and will continue to be in close contact with my colleagues, my law clerks and members of the Supreme Court staff.”

At the opening of Monday’s court session, Justice John Paul Stevens said Rehnquist was unable to be present but could still take part in deciding the cases being argued, using transcripts of the arguments, according to the AP.

Rehnquist was named to the court in 1972 by President Nixon and elevated to chief justice by President Reagan in 1986. The chief justice has had several health problems, including hurting his knee in a fall at his home in 2002 for which he had surgery to repair a torn tendon. He also has had chronic back pain and has spent time in physical therapy.

Other members of the current Supreme Court who have been treated for cancer include Stevens for prostate cancer, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor for breast cancer and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for colon cancer.

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