Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died Saturday evening at his home in suburban Virginia, said Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg.
A statement from the spokeswoman said he was surrounded by his three children when he died in Arlington.
"The Chief Justice battled thyroid cancer since being diagnosed last October and continued to perform his dues on the court until a precipitous decline in his health the last couple of days," she said.
Rehnquist was appointed to the Supreme Court as an associate justice in 1971 by President Nixon and took his seat on Jan. 7, 1982. He was elevated to chief justice by President Reagan in 1986.
His death ends a remarkable 33-year Supreme Court career during which Rehnquist oversaw the court's conservative shift, presided over an impeachment trial and helped decide a presidential election.
The death President Bush his second court opening within pour months and sets up what's expected to be an even more bruising Senate confirmation battle than that of John Roberts.
Rehnquist, 80 and ill with cancer, presided over President Clinton's impeachment trial in 1999, helped settle the 2000 presidential election in Bush's favor, and fashioned decisions over the years that diluted the powers of the federal government while strengthening those of the states.
oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit.
This is not good. I feel bad for the family. For the nation however, this may be the best time for this to happen between now and 2008. W's numbers right now are in the crapper and look to be staying there for a while which means his pull on the hill is not going to be good. Politicians don't want their picture next to a guy who is disliked by 2/3 of the populace which means the Roberts nomination won't be easy, and getting anyone more conservative (like another Rehnquist if one could be found) might be a lost cause. He may have to go with someone like Souter.
The short list has some problems.
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales - would not be confirmed. The torture memos are enough to tip the moderate Republicans away, and the Democrats would blanket vote no.
J. Michael Luttig Fourth Circuit - out of the Scalia mode, issued a ruling on the 4th Circuit overturning Miranda, was reversed by the Supreme Court. Would set off nuclear option in a heartbeat.
Edith Clement Fifth Circuit - considered the front runner for the Roberts nomination, possible.
Samuel A. Alito Jr. Third Circuit - nickname "Scalito" see Luttig problem.
Michael McConnell Utah law professor, 10th Circuit nominee - Would set off the nuclear option and would likely see it land on the wrong side for W. Unlikely to be nominated because of this. Adamantly opposed to Roe v. Wade, constructionist opposed to an implied right to privacy.
Emilio Garza Fifth Circuit - Hispanic, but very conservative, might be nominated for the race card, but positions make that iffy.
James Harvie Wilkinson III Fourth Circuit - See Luttig again.
Former Solicitor General Theodore Olson - head lawyer in Bush v. Gore, 100% unacceptable for Dems because of this.
Miguel Estrada - only 45, was one of the Circuit Court nominees blocked during the first term.
Former deputy attorney general Larry Thompson - possible?
What makes this MUCH more interesting is, this nomination is for Chief Justice. He can't just nominate someone and say someone else is now Chief, Going back to Abe Fortas, if he tries to nominate someone currently sitting on the court, he could end up simply knocking that person off.
Someone he COULD nominate that would be quickly approved would be O'Connor. The question is, would she take it?