Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died over Labor Day weekend in 2005, 10 months after receiving a diagnosis of an invariably fatal form of thyroid cancer. During most of that time, he had been widely expected to announce a decision to retire, but he kept even most colleagues in the dark about his condition and plans until declaring six weeks before his death that he intended to stay on. Whether he displayed brave optimism or “a degree of egoistic narcissism,” as Prof. Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas Law School asserted in a recent book, is open to debate. With the protection of life tenure, the decision to play through was, in any event, completely the chief justice’s own. But it is beyond debate that interest in re-examining the wisdom of the Constitution’s grant of life tenure to Supreme Court justices, a lively topic at the time of Chief Justice Rehnquist’s illness and death, has continued to grow.
The New York Times
New Focus on the Effects of Life Tenure