Washington Chief Justice William Rehnquist will not be present when the Supreme Court resumes oral argument sessions next week but will continue to participate in decisions from home as he battles thyroid cancer, the court announced Friday.
The Supreme Court returns Tuesday for the second half of its current term after a four-week recess. It is to hold two weeks of oral arguments on such issues as the rights of owners of condemned property, the ability of farmers to sue the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the display of the Ten Commandments on government property.
A spokeswoman for the court, Kathy Arberg, said Rehnquist, 80, would not attend the oral arguments but would read transcripts of them and continue to vote on decisions. This will mark the fourth month that Rehnquist has missed argument sessions, having skipped the ones in November, December and January.
The absence raises anew the prospect that the chief justice could step down because of his illness when the current term ends in June. Justices typically wait until the end of a term to retire, giving the president time to find a replacement and avoiding the possibility of 4-4 deadlocks on the nine-member court in the interim.
Rehnquist was admitted Oct. 22 to Bethesda (Md.) Naval Hospital and underwent a tracheotomy in connection with a diagnosis of thyroid cancer. A court news release at the time said he was expected to return to the bench Nov. 1, but he was unable to do so. He has undergone radiation and chemotherapy to treat the cancer.
He last appeared in public on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, when he administered the oath of office to President Bush.