Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the 16th chief justice of the Supreme Court, died of cancer on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2005 in his Arlington home. A widower since his wife’s death in 1991, he was surrounded by his three children when he passed.
The Chief Justice, who was named to the Supreme Court by President Richard M. Nixon in 1971, had served on the court for 33 years. In 1986, he was elevated to chief justice by President Ronald Reagan. Only four other men served on the court for more than 34 years.
Diagnosed with thyroid cancer in October 2004, Chief Justice Rehnquist declined to retire and continued in his duties on the court despite his illness and subsequent radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Determined to perform his duties as chief justice as long as possible, the Chief Justice said, on July 14, that he would remain on the bench as long as his health allowed.
A Wisconsin native, Chief Justice Rehnquist attended Stanford University law school in California where he graduated at the top of his class in 1952. He was a private lawyer who joined the Justice Department in 1969. During his term, Chief Justice Rehnquist oversaw the court’s conservative shift, presided over President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial and helped to decide the 2000 presidential election.