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Chief Justice William Rehnquist returned to the Supreme Court bench on Monday for the first time since last October, when it was first announced that he has thyroid cancer. Rehnquist’s voice was gravelly and at times difficult to hear, the result of a tracheotomy he had last fall to assist in breathing during his treatments for the cancer. He did not use any devices to assist his speaking or boost its volume, other than the standard microphone in front of his seat. But otherwise, he conducted two hours of oral arguments and other Court functions pretty much as he had before his illness. He asked seven questions during each of the two arguments — a typical number for him — including one reference to Mormons that drew laughter. He referred to them as “LDS,” as in Latter-day Saints. Rehnquist took two breaks from arguments, getting up from the bench and disappearing behind the curtains for a few minutes. But that too was typical for him; he usually takes walking breaks to relieve back pain. When the Court session began at 10 a.m. with the bang of the gavel by the marshal of the Court, Rehnquist emerged and sat down without fanfare. Several of the other justices were smiling, as if to signal their pleasure at his return, but none made any special note of his presence. Rehnquist plunged immediately into the usual rituals, including swearing in new members of the Supreme Court Bar. Coincidentally, the first attorney to address Rehnquist for the purpose of sponsoring a new member of the bar was Harvey Rishikof, Rehnquist’s former administrative assistant and now a law professor at the National War College. Rehnquist has been undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments for his cancer, though the Court has not issued any recent updates on the progress of his treatments. He has not been seen in public since Jan. 20, when he swore in President George W. Bush for a second term. Rehnquist has been working in his chambers and presiding over the Court’s conferences as well as the March 15 meeting of the Judicial Conference.

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