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Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, denying rumors of his retirement, said Thursday he will continue heading the Court as long his health permits. “I’m not about to announce my retirement,” he told The Associated Press. “I want to put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors of my imminent retirement,” Rehnquist, 80, and ailing with thyroid cancer, said in a statement obtained by The Associated Press. “I am not about to announce my retirement. I will continue to perform my duties as chief justice as long as my health permits.” Rehnquist released the statement hours after being released from an Arlington, Va., hospital after being treated for two days with a fever. Rehnquist, who has served 33 years on the Court, continued coming to work every day even as rumors swept Washington that he was about to retire. The speculation intensified after Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement earlier this month, a surprise move that fueled speculation that President Bush would soon have two vacancies to fill on the nine-person bench. Rehnquist, who has been through at least one round of chemotherapy and radiation, surprised many people when he presided at Bush’s inauguration in January and returned to the bench in March, keeping a full schedule. But outside of a handful of brief statements issued by the Court since October, Rehnquist has said nothing publicly about his condition or prognosis. He had also said nothing about his plans on the bench, despite the vigil kept by reporters and photographers outside his home. White House officials, who had said they had no idea whether Rehnquist was staying, are now free to focus on filling the single vacancy. There had been intense discussions in the White House about the political complications of pushing two nominations through at once. Medical experts initially speculated that Rehnquist probably had the deadly anaplastic form of thyroid cancer, based on the chemotherapy-radiation treatment. But now that seems less likely. “The prognosis for that is so poor. Most patients succumb very quickly, within three to six months,” said Dr. Mark Urken, a cancer expert at Beth Israel Hospital in New York. It is more likely that Rehnquist has another more treatable type, said Urken and other physicians not involved in his treatment. Dr. Kenneth Burman, a thyroid specialist at Washington Hospital Center, said other possibilities are papillary thyroid cancer or lymphoma of the thyroid. People with those types can be treated and live for years without more problems. Rehnquist’s latest hospitalization for fever may have been just precautionary, Burman said. “It’s very difficult to tell. It could range from something insignificant, to something indicative of more serious illness,” he said. The White House, congressional leaders and even fellow justices have been on edge awaiting word whether Rehnquist would end his 33-year career on the Supreme Court. Before Thursday evening, Rehnquist had said nothing in public about his future until last week, when a reporter called out to him outside his house to respond to retirement rumors. “That’s for me to know and you to find out,” Rehnquist replied. Erwin Chemerinsky, a Duke University law professor who frequently argues Supreme Court cases, said the response “reminded me of what an elementary kid would say.” “I think it means he’s enjoying everybody guessing about what he’s doing,” Chemerinsky said. It was impossible for journalists to call out questions to Rehnquist when he left Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington after lunch on Thursday. He had been taken there by ambulance Tuesday night. Officers escorted him out through a parking garage, while most news crews were kept away on a sidewalk. At his home, Arlington police stood guard in front, while Rehnquist was brought in through a back entrance. The dozens of waiting reporters never got a glimpse of the chief justice. Rehnquist had also been taken by ambulance to the hospital in March after experiencing breathing problems. He has a trachea tube that helps him breathe. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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