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Chief Justice Rehnquist hospitalized

From Bill Mears
CNN Washington Bureau

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Supreme Court
William H. Rehnquist

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Chief Justice William Rehnquist is under observation in a northern Virginia hospital Wednesday after complaining of a fever Tuesday night, a Supreme Court spokeswoman said.

An ambulance took Rehnquist, 80, to Virginia Hospital Center on Tuesday night, and he was kept overnight for tests and observation, spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said. She did not indicate when he might be released.

Rehnquist has been battling thyroid cancer since October and underwent a tracheotomy as part of that fight.

He has received chemotherapy and radiation treatments since the diagnosis, but his office refuses to characterize the seriousness of his illness.

The hospital, located near Rehnquist's home in northern Virginia, also treated the chief justice when he had problems with his tracheotomy tube in March.

Rehnquist has served on the Supreme Court since 1972 and became chief justice in 1986.

His age and health have led to widespread speculation that he will announce his retirement before the court reconvenes in October.

He has shown up for work daily since the court's term ended in late June. Reporters started inquiring about him when he failed to show up at his office on Wednesday.

Word of Rehnquist's hospitalization came after court security personnel went to his Arlington home twice Wednesday. Officers were observed taking clothing, shoes and Rehnquist's cane before driving off.

Earlier this month, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said she was retiring, paving the way for the first opening on the court in 11 years.

Mum on plans

Rehnquist has given no public indication of his plans. "That's for me to know and you to find out," he told reporters Friday.

Sources close to Rehnquist have said the chief justice deliberately has kept his staff and friends in the dark about his future, believing it would be a distraction to the court's business if the speculation became too rampant.

"I think he's happy now just getting his work done, and the work of the other justices done. He takes that leadership role seriously," said Richard Garnett, a University of Notre Dame professor and a former law clerk for Rehnquist.

"And if it comes to a point where he says, 'I can't do the job,' then I think he'll just quit. But we don't know if he's at that point yet."

After his initial diagnosis and treatments, Rehnquist remained off the bench and away from his court office, although he continued to work from home with the help of his clerks and staff.

He returned to his office in December and was back on the bench in March. Rehnquist braved the cold in January to uphold tradition and swear-in President Bush for a second term.

Rehnquist's trachea tube remains in place, leaving his voice scratchy, and he uses a wheelchair to get around on long trips.

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