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Rehnquist released from hospital

Expected back at court Monday


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Chief Justice William Rehnquist
CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST

1972 -- Appointed to Supreme Court by President Nixon

1973 -- Dissents in Roe v. Wade

1986 -- Appointed chief justice by President Reagan

1999 -- Presides over President Clinton's impeachment trial

2000 -- Writes concurring opinion in Bush v. Gore

2004 -- Turns 80

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Chief Justice William Rehnquist was released from a hospital Friday morning, a week after throat surgery related to thyroid cancer.

A U.S. Supreme Court spokesman said Rehnquist, 80, is no longer at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, but declined to say whether the chief justice was at home, at work or had been transferred to another hospital.

The court said Rehnquist is expected to be back on the bench Monday when arguments resume.

He was admitted to the hospital October 22 and underwent surgery that included a tracheotomy Saturday.

The court has refused to discuss the seriousness of Rehnquist's illness and whether he will be unable to perform his work-related duties.

Some medical experts have said thyroid cancer is generally treatable, but it can cause serious complications in older patients

Rehnquist's previous health problems have included back and knee problems.

He played tennis regularly until he had knee surgery in December 2002. Friends have said he uses a daily stroll, circling the Corinthian columns at the high court, to exercise and to sort out thorny legal issues.

Concern in campaign

Rehnquist has led the Supreme Court since 1986, when President Reagan named him to replace Chief Justice Warren Burger.

Rehnquist is one of the most conservative members of the closely divided court. The news of his health problem drew extra attention because it came as the presidential race headed into the homestretch and the next president could help tip the balance on the nation's highest court, which now stands in a loose 5-4 conservative majority.

There has also been great speculation over who on the court would be chosen chief justice if that slot were to open. (Full story)

In one of the campaign debates, President Bush said he would pick "strict constructionists" to fill any vacancies.

"I would pick somebody who would not allow their personal opinion to get in the way of the law," he said, adding that there would be "no litmus test except for how they interpret the Constitution."

Sen. John Kerry pointed to Bush's previous comments that he wanted "conservative" judges and to the president's appointment of conservatives to key judicial posts.

"The Supreme Court of the United States is at stake in this race. ... The future of things that matter to you -- in terms of civil rights, what kind of Justice Department you'll have, whether we'll enforce the law," he said in one of debates.

"Will we have equal opportunity? Will women's rights be protected? Will we have equal pay for women, which is going backwards? Will a woman's right to choose be protected? These are constitutional rights, and I want to make sure we have judges who interpret the Constitution of the United States according to the law."

All but one of the nine justices is over 65, and many court watchers expect at least one, perhaps as many as four, retirements in the next four years.

Fellow Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 71, underwent treatment for colon cancer in 1999, and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, 74, had a bout with breast cancer that was diagnosed in 1988. (Health conditions of justices)

The nine members of the court have been together a decade, the longest uninterrupted span in nearly two centuries.

Rehnquist told an interviewer in 2001 that "traditionally, Republican appointees have tended to retire during Republican administrations." He would not expand on that thought, but it suggested a political realization that presidents should be allowed to replace one justice with another of similar ideology.

A Wisconsin native, the chief justice is a widower and has three children.

CNN's Bill Mears, John King, Barbara Starr and Miriam Falco contributed to this report.


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