Chief Justice Rehnquist Vows Not to Retire

07/15/2005 at 08:00 AM EDT

Chief Justice Rehnquist Vows Not to Retire
Chief Justice William Rehnquist in December 2003
JASON REED/Reuters
Despite his age and his ailments, Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist declared for public record Thursday that he will continue to head the highest court in the land.

"I want to put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors of my imminent retirement," Rehnquist, 80, said in a statement he submitted to the Associated Press. "I will continue to perform my duties as chief justice as long as my health permits."

Rehnquist issued the statement hours after being released from an Arlington, Va., hospital, where he had received two days of treatment for a fever. Rehnquist also is suffering from thyroid cancer.

President Bush, who reportedly received no advance word about the chief justice's statement, welcomed the chief justice's announcement, according to presidential spokesman Scott McClellan. "The chief justice is doing an outstanding job, and we are pleased he will continue his great service to the nation," he said.

Fueled by the recent retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Rehnquist's future has been the subject of intense speculation since he announced in October that he had thyroid cancer. He has said very little publicly about his prognosis and nothing about his future at the court.

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan nominated Rehnquist to replace retiring Chief Justice Warren Burger, over protests at the time by those who labeled Rehnquist a conservative extremist.

There were also charges that he had mishandled a family trust. The accusations remained unproved, however, and the Senate confirmed Rehnquist by a solid majority.

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