For Rehnquist, quiet farewells

Friends, family members, colleagues pay respects to longtime chief justice

September 07, 2005|By Jan Crawford Greenburg | Jan Crawford Greenburg,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - In a simple, unvarnished pine casket draped with an American flag, the body of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was carried yesterday to the great marble building that defined his life, and tearful justices, family members and former clerks gathered to say quiet farewells to their longtime leader.

"Here, you honored our nation with your service," said Rehnquist's pastor, the Rev. George Evans. "Know you are loved."

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Rehnquist's old friend and former law school classmate, who announced her retirement in June, wept. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas also wiped away tears as they stood alongside the casket.

Facing them, with scores of other former clerks, stood Judge John G. Roberts Jr., his hands clasped in front of him and his jaw tightly set. Nominated 24 hours earlier to replace the man he called "Boss," the 50-year-old Roberts was one of eight pallbearers to carry the casket up the court's grand steps and place it on the Lincoln Catafalque, which held President Abraham Lincoln's coffin in the Capitol rotunda.

Monday, Roberts will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, when it starts hearings on his nomination to become the nation's 17th chief justice.

Rehnquist died Saturday night after a 10-month battle with thyroid cancer. Weakened and tired, he had continued to lead the court with his customary firmness and humor, and his death, though expected, was difficult for his colleagues and former clerks to grasp.

After the 30-minute service, clerks adjourned to one of the court's ornately paneled conference rooms, where they shared stories and reminisced. Later in the day, President Bush arrived to pay respects to Rehnquist with first lady Laura Bush at his side. Scalia accompanied them.

Bush will speak today at Rehnquist's funeral at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington.

The Senate had planned to begin hearings yesterday on Roberts' nomination to replace O'Connor. But with Rehnquist's death and funeral - and Bush's nomination of Roberts to become chief justice - the Judiciary Committee delayed those hearings until next week.

Bush indicated yesterday that he would not select a nominee for O'Connor's seat until after the confirmation of Roberts, whose approval by the Senate is widely expected.

The president said after a Cabinet meeting that the "list is wide open" for O'Connor's successor and said, "That should create some good speculation here in Washington."

"And make sure you notice when I said that I looked right at Al Gonzales, who can really create speculation," he quipped, referring to the attorney general, who is considered a possible nominee despite being ardently opposed by conservatives.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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