WASHINGTON – Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, suffering from thyroid cancer and absent from the bench for seven weeks, still plans to preside at President Bush’s inauguration on Jan. 20, a Supreme Court spokeswoman said Friday.
The chief justice normally swears in the president, but it had been unclear if Rehnquist would be well enough.
Rehnquist’s continued absence from the bench and the dearth of information about his condition fueled speculation the 80-year-old may step aside soon, giving the court its first vacancy in more than a decade, a modern record.
Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said Bush had invited Rehnquist to administer the oath of office and he accepted. Arberg said she did not know if he would be on the bench when the justices return Jan. 10.
Rehnquist has been away from court since Oct. 22, when he was hospitalized and then underwent a tracheotomy to help him breathe. Medical experts have said his treatment, a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, is standard for anaplastic thyroid cancer, a particularly aggressive and fatal form.