Win Mcnamee  /  Getty Images file
Chief Justice William Rehnquist leaves his home in Arlington, Va., on June 28.
updated 7/1/2005 3:05:52 PM ET 2005-07-01T19:05:52

The future of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, ailing with cancer and the focus of retirement speculation, is still up in the air.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 75, announced Friday that she was retiring from the Supreme Court, surprising many who had expected that the 80-year-old chief justice would be the one stepping down.

There was no word from the court on Rehnquist’s plans. Some court watchers suggested he might stay for another term, based on an informal understanding among justices to avoid two retirements in the same term if possible.

“If there is one person whom Justice O’Connor told ahead of time, in addition to her husband, I think it would be the chief justice,” said David Garrow, a Supreme Court historian and law professor at Emory University.

“Barring a medical emergency, I think it’s certain the chief justice is planning to return in October and believes he’ll be fully capable of returning,” he said.

Rehnquist announced last October he had thyroid cancer, but after treatment he has been working at the court full-time.

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