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Chief Justice, Fighting Cancer, Hospitalized With a Fever

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Times Staff Writer

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who is battling thyroid cancer, remained hospitalized Wednesday after being admitted a day earlier because of a fever.

Rehnquist, taken by ambulance to a Virginia hospital, “was admitted for observation and tests,” said Kathy Arberg, the Supreme Court’s spokeswoman.

She gave no further details on his condition and said Wednesday that she did not know when he would be released.

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The 80-year-old chief justice has been undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer since October, but he has not discussed his health or his plans for the year ahead. The latest hospitalization raised new questions about his ability to continue on the job.

In recent weeks, Washington has been swept with rumors that Rehnquist was about to retire. The chief justice has said nothing publicly that would further those rumors or quell them.

When asked recently by a television reporter whether he planned to retire, Rehnquist said, “That’s for me to know and you to find out.”

Lacking news from the court, camera crews and reporters have gathered each morning outside Rehnquist’s home in Arlington, Va. After he is driven to the Supreme Court building, they stake out the sidewalk in front of the court.

On Wednesday, the camera crews and reporters did not spot Rehnquist but saw one of his aides bring out a cane and some clothes. In midafternoon, the court released a two-sentence statement saying Rehnquist had been taken late Tuesday to Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington.

Rehnquist had been working every day at the court since its term ended in late June.

This week, he received an emergency appeal asking the court to stop the execution of a Virginia man, Robin Lovitt, who was convicted in 1999 in the death of a manager of a pool hall in Arlington.

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After state courts upheld Lovitt’s conviction, a clerk at the county court threw out the evidence in the case, including DNA samples. In their federal appeal, Lovitt’s lawyers argued that the destroyed evidence could have shown that Lovitt was not guilty.

Rehnquist is the circuit judge for Virginia and the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. On Monday, the high court issued an order to stop Lovitt’s execution. His case was put on hold until October, when justices will consider whether to hear his appeal.

There have been conflicting reports about Rehnquist’s effectiveness as he battles cancer. Several justices have said he ran closed-door conferences with his customary efficiency and command, and they stressed that he was prepared to discuss and debate the cases and appeals before the court.

At times, Rehnquist has gasped for breath in the courtroom and has had to leave his seat during oral arguments. Soon after his diagnosis, he underwent a tracheotomy to aid his breathing, but the opening in his windpipe has been an apparent source of discomfort.

Although Rehnquist participated in President Bush’s inauguration in January, he did not hear oral arguments between the end of October and mid-March.

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