The Rehnquist watch heats up

Today? Monday? Next year? Nobody knows for sure, but the White House is making plans for two vacancies on the Supreme Court.

Published July 8, 2005 1:16PM (EDT)

Is today the day that William Rehnquist retires?

There's no rule that requires Supreme Court justices to announce their retirements on a Friday. And even if the chief justice had been planning to break the news today, the bombings in London yesterday may have caused him to reassess his schedule. Nobody -- or at least, not very many bodies -- knows for sure whether Rehnquist will step down from the court today, Monday or not until some other year. But the speculation is building, and most of it's pointing in one direction: He's leaving, and soon.

Robert Novak reported yesterday that Supreme Court "sources" were saying that Rehnquist would step down before this week is over. In a talk at the Heritage Foundation yesterday, former acting Solicitor General Walter E. Dellinger III said that he would "bet a considerable amount of money that the chief will send his letter over no later than Monday." And the Washington Post reports today that the White House is preparing for the possibility that it will have not one but two spots to fill on the Supreme Court before its next term begins in October.

"We're prepared for every contingency," a senior administration official tells the Post. "If it's multiple candidates, we'll be ready."

As the Post notes, presidents have been faced with the prospect of double nominees twice in recent history. In 1971, Richard Nixon replaced John Marshall Harlan and Hugo Black with Rehnquist and Lewis Powell. And in 1986, Ronald Reagan named Rehnquist chief justice and nominated Antonin Scalia to take his place as an associate justice.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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