WASHINGTON — Chief Justice William Rehnquist will deliver the oath of office to President Bush on Jan. 20, the Supreme Court confirmed Friday, quelling speculation that he could resign because of his announcement that he had thyroid cancer six weeks ago.
Rehnquist, 80, last appeared in public on Oct. 22, when he was hospitalized. He underwent a tracheotomy to help him breathe and since then has been receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatment at home.
The chief justice continues to read court briefs, review transcripts of oral arguments and conduct court-related business with his staff, court and Bush administration officials told NBC News, which first reported Rehnquist’s decision.
The president invited Rehnquist to deliver the oath, and the chief justice accepted, Kathy Arberg, a spokeswoman for the court, told The Associated Press, confirming the NBC report. It could not immediately be determined whether Rehnquist intended to be present for the court’s return from recess 10 days beforehand, on Jan. 10.
Details have been kept secret about the seriousness of Rehnquist’s cancer, which was announced in a terse statement Oct. 25.
Some doctors familiar with thyroid cancer said his treatment suggested a fast-growing cancer, but the news that Rehnquist will likely be well enough to deliver the presidential oath outdoors in the middle of winter could suggest that his recovery has been swift.
“Whether he will have the strength to come back and sit on the court every day, I think, is still unclear. But certainly it sounds like he wants to try,” said Stephen Wermeil, a professor at American University College of Law.
Rehnquist has been on the court since 1972 and chief justice since 1986. He has had other health problems, including chronic back pain and a torn leg tendon that required surgery. Besides Rehnquist, three other current justices have had cancer. John Paul Stevens had prostate cancer, Sandra Day O’Connor had breast cancer, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg was treated for colon cancer.
NBC’s Pete Williams and MSNBC.com’s Alex Johnson contributed to this report.