Precinct 333

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Last Hurrah

Chief Justice William Rehnquist administered the oath of office to President George W. Bush today, after four months out of the public spotlight. It is likely his last time performing this traditional function of the chief justice, if not his last public act in that capacity.

Rehnquist, 80, made his first appearance at a public event since October, when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and underwent a tracheotomy. He also has been undergoing radiation and chemotherapy.

Wearing his black robes of office, Rehnquist was the last dignitary to arrive and join Bush and others on the stage for the swearing-in ceremony.

Just 16 minutes before he was due to administer the oath of office, Rehnquist used a cane and walked slowly down the steps of the East Front of the Capitol, with his administrative assistant and top aide, Sally Rider, behind him.

Introduced by Sen. Trent Lott, Rehnquist smiled as the crowd applauded. He wore a light-colored scarf around his neck and a black cap.

His voice sounded hoarse, and his tracheotomy tube, which helps him breathe, was visible. He read the 35-word oath and then congratulated Bush.

They shook hands, and Rehnquist then left the podium, before Bush's speech.

Rehnquist has been a giant while serving on the Supreme Court, both as an associate Justice and as Chief Justice. He is a noted scholar of Supreme Court and legal history, and has published several books on those subjects while serving on the court. It speaks to his reverence for the history and traditions of the Court that he made a point of being present for today’s inauguration, for no one would have thought any less of him for passing that duty to another justice due to his illness.

May God bless you and comfort you in this time of infirmity, Mr. Chief Justice.


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