Frail, Determined Rehnquist Gives Oath; 'Tough Old Bird' Ignores Illness to Perform Duty

Article excerpt

Byline: James G. Lakely, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, frail from cancer treatments and speaking in a strong but raspy voice, braved the cold yesterday to swear in President Bush for a second term in what might be one of the ailing justice's last public appearances.

"He's a tough old bird," said Neil M. Richards, a former clerk for the chief justice.

Mr. Rehnquist, 80, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in October and has undergone a tracheotomy and intense chemotherapy.

He walked slowly down the Capitol steps with the aid of a cane. He wore a black cap to protect his balding head and a gray scarf to help hide the tube that was inserted in the front of his neck to help him breathe.

The microphone picked up the wheezing sound of air blowing through the tube as Chief Justice Rehnquist spoke, but it could not drown out his distinctive, booming baritone.

"He looked like the chief and sounded like the chief," said Mr. Richards, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. "That was such a great sign."

Rick Garnett, who served as a Rehnquist clerk in 1996 and 1997, said he had "mixed feelings" upon seeing his old boss take part in history.

"When I first saw him come up, I thought it was good to see him up and around," said Mr. Garnett, who teaches law at University of Notre Dame. "Then I thought about the last time I saw him [in July]. I was in the court having lunch, and he was strong and vigorous.

"It was heartening to see him up there, but sobering to see how difficult things are for him."

Chief Justice Rehnquist has not appeared in court since revealing his illness. He works on cases and registers his votes from his home in Arlington. His participation in the inauguration had been in doubt, especially after a New York Post story last week that described the chief justice's eyes as looking "sunken and lifeless."

Mr. Richards, however, said he was encouraged by Chief Justice Rehnquist's appearance yesterday.

"You read these things in the papers, and there's all this speculation about how he would look and how he would sound," Mr. …