Williams Hubbs Rehnquist
William H. Rehnquist was the Chief Justice of the United States, the head of the judicial branch of the government through September of 2005. As such, he presided over the Supreme Court. Appointed as an Associate Justice by Richard Nixon and named Chief Justice by Ronald Reagan, he was considered one of the Court's conservatives.
Rehnquist's term as Chief Justice was been marked by selective states' rights, and a purported disdain for judicial "activism." However, the Rehnquist Court has struck down more laws than the legendarily activist Warren Court. Professor Cass Sunstein has written about the Rehnquist Court's activism in A Hand in the Matter: Has the Rehnquist Court pushed its agenda on the rest of the country?
As a law clerk for Justice Jackson, Rehnquist wrote a memorandum explaining why the case that stood for "separate but equal," Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 53 (1896), should be upheld. In his confirmation hearings, both for associate justice and chief, Rehnquist claimed that the memo was written at Justice Jackson's request for a statement of opposition to overturning Plessy, and did not reflect his views.
Many, including other clerks of Justice Jackson, do not find this credible.
Rehnquist was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After finishing high school, he entered the U.S. Army Air Force. Rehnquist served in World War II from 1943 to 1946, working as a weather observer in North Africa.
After the war ended, Rehnquist attended Stanford University with assistance under the provisons of the G.I. Bill. In 1948, Rehnquist received a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in political science. In 1950, Rehnquist went to Harvard University, where he recieved a master's degree in government. He returned later to law school at Stanford University, where he graduated first in his class (ahead of Sandra Day O'Connor, who came in third).
Rehnquist went to Washington, DC to work as a clerk for Justice Robert H. Jackson during the Court's 1951–1952 terms. There, he wrote a memorandum arguing against school desegregation while the court was considering the Brown v. Board of Education case. Rehnquist later claimed that the memo was meant to reflect Jackson's views and not his own.
Rehnquist later moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he was in private practice from 1953 to 1969. During these years, he was also active in the Republican Party, and served as a legal advisor to Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign. During the 1986 Senate hearings on his nomination to serve as Chief Justice of the United States, several people came forward to complain about what they had perceived as Rehnquist's attempts to discourage minority voters in Arizona elections when Rehnquist served as a "poll watcher" in the early 1960s, though the allegations did not describe illegal behavior. Rehnquist denied the charges completely and was confirmed by a wide margin, although by less than Antonin Scalia, who was nominated to fill Rehnquist's seat as an associate justice of the Supreme Court.
Justice Department and Supreme Court service
When President Richard Nixon was elected in 1968, Rehnquist returned to work in Washington. He served as Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Legal Counsel, from 1969 to 1971. In this role, he served as the chief lawyer to Attorney General John Mitchell. President Nixon mistakenly referred to him as "Renchburg" in several of the tapes of Oval Office conversations revealed during the Watergate investigations. Nixon nominated Rehnquist to replace John Marshall Harlan II on the Supreme Court upon Harlan's retirement,and after being confirmed by the Senate by a 68-26 vote on December 10, 1971, Rehnquist took his seat as an Associate Justice on January 7, 1972. There were two vacancies on the court at the time; Nixon nominated Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. to fill the other.
On the Burger Court, Rehnquist promptly established himself as the most conservative of Nixon's appointees, taking a narrow view of the Fourteenth Amendment and a broad view of state power. He voted against the expansion of school desegregation plans and the establishment of abortion rights (dissenting in Roe v. Wade 1973), and in favor of school prayer, capital punishment and states' rights.
When Chief Justice Warren Burger retired in 1986, then-President Ronald Reagan nominated Rehnquist to fill the position. Despite controversy, he was confirmed by the Senate and assumed the office on September 26.
Since becoming Chief Justice, Rehnquist has continued to lead the Court's move towards taking a broader view of state powers in the U.S. federal system. For example, he wrote for a 5 to 4 majority in United States v. Lopez, striking down a federal law as exceeding Congressional power under the commerce clause. Rehnquist has also led the way in establishing more governmental leniency towards state aid for religion, writing for another 5 to 4 majority in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002) approving a school voucher program that aided parochial schools.
Rehnquist also created a unique robe for himself as Chief Justice in 1994. It has four golden bars on each sleeve. In the past, Chief Justices had not dressed differently than any of the Associate Justices. Rehnquist's robe was modeled after a robe he had seen in a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta, 'Iolanthe,' first staged in London in 1882. The costume which inspired Chief Justice Rehnquist, an acknowledged Gilbert and Sullivan fan, is worn by the Lord Chancellor, a character called upon to settle a dispute among a colony of fairies.
On October 26, 2004, the Supreme Court announced that Rehnquist had recently been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and that he had been hospitalized at Bethesda Naval Medical Center for the past five days. In a brief statement, the Court said that Rehnquist underwent a tracheotomy two days prior. This led to renewed speculation in the media over Rehnquist's health and his possible retirement and replacement. Rehnquist has long struggled with back problems, and developed a dependence on the prescription sedative Placidyl to ease his back pain, for which he underwent a drug addiction treatment program at the George Washington University Hospital in the early 1980s.
Rehnquist died of thyroid cancer on September 3, 2005. The nomination of Judge John Roberts Jr., who clerked for Rehnquist at the U.S. Supreme Court, to replace Justice O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court, was withdrawn by President Bush and Roberts has now been appointed to replace Rehqnuist as Chief Justice.
Rehnquist married Natalie Cornell in 1953. She died on October 17, 1991 after suffering from ovarian cancer. They had three children: James, Janet, and Nancy. His daughter Janet is a former Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Rehnquist often spent summers in Vermont.
Rehnquist, who was the first justice of Scandinavian descent, had a Norwegian lineage.
- Federalist Society, co-founder
| Preceded by:|
Warren E. Burger
|Chief Justice of the United States|| Succeeded by:|
John Marshall Harlan II
|Associate Justice||Succeeded by:|