Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died Saturday evening of cancer, ending a remarkable 33-year tenure on the Supreme Court and creating a rare second vacancy on the nation's highest court.
Rehnquist, 80, was surrounded by his three children when he died at his home in suburban Arlington.
"The Chief Justice battled thyroid cancer since being diagnosed last October and continued to perform his duties on the court until a precipitous decline in his health the last couple of days," said court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg.
Rehnquist was appointed to the Supreme Court as an associate justice in 1971 by President Nixon and took his seat on Jan. 7, 1972. He was elevated to chief justice by President Reagan in 1986.
His death ends a career during which Rehnquist oversaw the court's conservative shift, presided over an impeachment trial and helped decide a presidential election.
The death leaves President Bush with 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.