WASHINGTON A Supreme Court spokeswoman says Chief Justice William Rehnquist continued to perform his duties "until a precipitous decline in his health" over the last few days.
Rehnquist died Saturday evening at his home in Arlington, Virginia, with his three children at his side. He was 80 and had thyroid cancer.
Rehnquist had an extraordinary 33 years on the high court. He was appointed to the Supreme Court as an associate justice in 1971 by President Nixon and took his seat on Jan. 7, 1982. He was elevated to chief justice by President Reagan in 1986.He presided over President Clinton's impeachment trial in 1999 and helped settle the 2000 presidential election. Decisions he helped fashion over the years diluted the powers of the federal government while strengthening those of the states.
The White House calls his death "a tremendous loss" for the nation. Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Charles Schumer says "people of all philosophies and viewpoints greatly respected Justice Rehnquist and will miss him.'"
The death provides President Bush his second court opening within four months and sets up what's expected to be an even more bruising Senate confirmation battle than that of John Roberts. It was not immediately clear what impact Rehnquist's death would have on confirmation hearings for Roberts, scheduled to begin Tuesday.