William Hubbs Rehnquist, the 16th chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, died last night of thyroid cancer. He was 80. While his death does not come as a huge surprise, he has been visibly ailing for months now, that he died days before confirmation hearings begin for John Roberts does turn things around a bit. Rehnquist, who was appointed to the court in 1971 by Richard Nixon, was made Chief Justice in 1986. He oversaw some major decisions in his court, ranging from flag burning (Texas v. Johnson) to election recounts (Bush v. Gore). The Washington Post has a good breakdown of his key decisions. In fact, the obits are already pouring in, so rather than regurgitate them, we'll just point you in their direction.

Gothamist wonders, like many others, what this will mean for the Roberts confirmation. Will Roberts now become the nominee for Chief Justice (seems unlikely to us, but it keeps being thrown around by the press)? What about Scalia? Or Thomas? Will Sandra Day O'Connor stick around if Roberts nomination is shifted (she says she'll leave when her replacement has been confirmed)? Will the formalities of a state funeral put some of the suddenly crazy newscasters back in line? What's your take?