WASHINGTON (AP) – Battling cancer and one day out of the hospital, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was just where people who know him expected him to be: the office.

Rehnquist showed up for work Friday morning, following through on his pledge the night before to keep doing his job “as long as my health permits.”

Douglas Kmiec, a Pepperdine University law professor and former legal counsel in the Reagan and first Bush administrations, said Rehnquist’s choice to remain as chief justice “is a reflection of who is he is, how he was brought up.”

“Going to the building at 1 First St. is not a job for him. It is who he is,” Kmiec said.

The 80-year-old Rehnquist has thyroid cancer but has revealed nothing about his prognosis, so how long he will continue is an open question. But it’s clear he is determined: He didn’t even take off the morning following a two-night stay in a hospital where he was treated for a fever.

“He’s trying to make as much as is humanly possible a demonstration of capacity, to reassure the president and all of us that the work of the court is being done,” Kmiec said.

Rehnquist used strong language to end persistent rumors that his retirement was imminent. “I am not about to announce my retirement,” he said.

“Some people just get depressed and hang it up. Others fight like mad. He’s obviously fighting,” said Dr. Leonard Wartofsky, a thyroid cancer expert at the Washington Hospital Center.

Rehnquist has spent 33 years on the court, including nearly 19 as chief justice. Only four men have been on the court 34 years or longer.

Craig Bradley, a law professor at Indiana University and former Rehnquist law clerk, said, “I’m confident barring health problems he does not plan to retire this summer. In another year who knows?”

Rehnquist, a conservative put on the court by President Nixon in 1972, was diagnosed with cancer last fall and began receiving chemotherapy and radiation. He also had surgery to insert a trachea tube to help him breathe. He has not said whether he has the deadly anaplastic form of the disease or a less serious type.

“There are people with thyroid cancer who survive for years,” said Dr. Michael Weiss, a thyroid surgeon at the Maimonides Medical Center in New York. “He may be with us and working for a number of years yet.”

Dr. Kenneth Burman, another specialist at Washington Hospital Center, said it was unlikely that Rehnquist was receiving repeated radiation therapy. Chemotherapy agents can be used long-term, perhaps every few weeks or months, Burman said, either because the cancer is responding to it or to try to slow further growth.

Though he has maintained a full work schedule for months, Rehnquist’s health remains fragile.

“The experience this week shows this is a day-to-day, week-to-week proposition for him,” said Dennis Hutchinson, a law professor at the University of Chicago.

Rehnquist released a brief statement a few hours after his release from the hospital Thursday. The chief justice signaled that he is effectively fighting cancer and his health is strong enough to allow him to preside over the high court for the foreseeable future. His wife died of ovarian cancer in 1991.

“I want to put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors of my imminent retirement. I am not about to announce my retirement. I will continue to perform my duties as chief justice as long as my health permits,” Rehnquist said.

Until his recent hospitalization, Rehnquist had come to work every day. He had made a point of walking down the sidewalk in front of his house, past photographers and TV news crews, in an almost defiant show of strength.

In the past week, more than a dozen people have gathered at his home in the morning and afternoon. Still, Rehnquist did not use the more private back entrance until Thursday, when he was brought home from the hospital in a wheelchair.


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