Rehnquist, frail and funny, offers no hints

Published June 28, 2005

WASHINGTON - On the final day of the Supreme Court's term, Chief Justice William Rehnquist appeared frail but made a wisecrack that broke the courtroom into laughter.

He offered no clues about whether he will retire.

Most eyes in the room turned to the 80-year-old justice when he stood up and slowly walked behind a curtain while Justice Clarence Thomas was explaining a ruling. But Rehnquist, who has suffered from thyroid cancer, appeared about the same as he has for the past few months. He was following his routine of stretching his back every 10 or 15 minutes. He returned a few minutes later.

Rehnquist, who had a tracheotomy, sounded raspy and was hunched over when he walked. But after reading a confusing list of concurring and dissenting opinions for a case, he joked that "I didn't know we had that many people on the court."

The courtroom broke into laughter.

Some court observers have predicted Rehnquist could retire as soon as today. But in the past few days, there has been speculation that he might wait until later in the summer to decide if he will stay another term.