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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 was taken to a hospital for observation and tests overnight after complaining of a fever, a U.S. Supreme Court spokeswoman said Wednesday.

An ambulance took Rehnquist to Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington on Tuesday night, court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.

Arberg gave no indication when the 80-year-old justice, who has been battling thyroid cancer, would be released.

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 soon before the court reconvenes in October.

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.

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

Mum on plans

Rehnquist has not offered a clue in public about his plans.

He has been on a physically demanding pace since October, when he had an emergency tracheotomy after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He then endured weeks of chemotherapy and radiation.

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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