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William Hubbs Rehnquist

William Hubbs Rehnquist

William Hubbs Rehnquist, (born 1924) one of the most Conservative members of the Supreme Court, became the court's Chief Justice when he succeeded Justice Warren Burger in 1986.

William Hubbs Rehnquist was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on October 1, 1924. He grew up in the well-to-do Milwaukee suburb of Shorewood where his father, a first generation American of Swedish parentage, was a wholesale paper salesman. His mother, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, was a housewife and a civic activist and, fluent in five foreign languages, worked as a freelance translator for local companies. At an early age he embraced his family's respect for such leaders of the Republican Party as Alf Landon, Wendell Wilkie, Herbert Hoover, and Robert A. Taft. As a child, he once told a teacher that his career plans were to "change the world."

Rehnquist attended public schools and as feature editor of the paper of the all-white Shorewood high school was critical of such news commentators as Walter Winchell whom he believed interpreted rather than reported the news. At 17 during World War II the young Rehnquist volunteered as a neighborhood civil defense officer. After attending one year of college on scholarship, he joined the Army Air Corps as a weather observer, serving principally in North Africa from 1943 to 1946. When he returned from Africa he first used his G.I. Bill benefits, then worked various part-time jobs to attend Stanford University in California. Rehnquist was an excellent student; majoring in political science he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1948. He received Master's degrees from Stanford and Harvard universities before completing a law degree at Stanford, where he was editor of the law review and graduated first in his class in 1952. His conservative views were solidly established by this time and he was a willing and able debater on any political issues of the day. Such impressive accomplishments earned Rehnquist a prestigious 18-month clerkship in 1952-1953 with Associate Justice Robert H. Jackson of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1953 he married Natalie Cornell, a fellow Stanford student.

Republican Activist and Assistant U.S. Attorney General

After completing his clerkship, the Rehnquists moved to Phoenix, Arizona, a city noted for its conservative bent. Once there, Rehnquist established a private practice and became increasingly involved in Republican politics. He soon achieved prominence and in 1958 was chosen as a special Arizona state prosecutor involved in bringing charges against several state officials accused of state highway frauds. He publicly opposed a number of legislative initiatives over the years, including one that would institute busing to achieve racial integration of the schools.

Rehnquist associated with conservative Senator Barry Goldwater and Richard G. Kleindienst, and who served as chairman of the state party and as national field director for the presidential campaigns of Goldwater in 1964 and Richard M. Nixon in 1968. Among the liberals he targeted for criticism during this period were Justices Earl Warren, William O. Douglas, and Hugo L. Black, whom he termed "left-wing philosophers" of the Supreme Court, accusing them of "making the Constitution say what they wanted it to say."

Following his election in 1968, Nixon appointed Kleindienst as deputy attorney general. Kleindienst then chose Rehnquist as assistant attorney general responsible for the Office of Legal Counsel. During his two and a half years at the Justice Department Rehnquist turned what had been an obscure position into a focus of publicity and a target for criticism from liberals and Democrats. Among other controversial positions, Rehnquist defended the constitutionality of the president's policies in Indochina, Nixon's orders barring disclosure of certain government documents, and the mass arrest of peaceful demonstrators. He strongly supported the administration's stringent law-and-order program, including "no-knock" entries, pretrial detention, wire tapping, and electronic surveillance, and repeatedly stated the view that the Supreme Court had been too vigilant in defending the rights of the accused. Such positions were consistent with Nixon's desire to appoint "judicial conservatives" to the Supreme Court, and the president nominated Rehnquist and Lewis F. Powell, Jr., a noted Virginia lawyer, to be associate justices on October 21, 1971.

A Conservative on the Supreme Court

A few liberal senators opposed Rehnquist, but after he softened his law-and-order image and admitted having acquired a more sympathetic attitude toward civil rights, he was confirmed. Rehnquist and Powell then filled the seats on the Court vacated by Justices Hugo L. Black and John M. Harlan.

Rehnquist was easily the most conservative member of the Warren Court. He joined a tribunal that was just beginning to reconcile years of judicial activism maintained under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren with a more restrained approach to decisions symbolized by the new chief, Warren Burger. Even though Nixon had tried to fill the Court with "judicial conservatives," no radical shift to the right immediately occurred. Instead, the Court pursued an uneven course, sometimes adhering to a conservative position, at other times to a liberal one. There was, however, never a doubt about where Rehnquist stood. When the Court in Roe v. Wade (1973) overturned state laws against abortions, he dissented, arguing in favor of state power. Similarly, when the majority upheld bussing as a means to bring about desegregation in Keyes v. School District No. 1, Denver, Colorado (1973), Rehnquist wrote a stinging dissent. Often the only dissenter, he opposed school desegregation, women's rights, civil-service jobs for aliens, and health care for the poor, among others. Especially during the early years on the Court, his one-man dissents occurred so often that Rehnquist's law clerks presented him a Lone Ranger doll, referring to their boss as the "lone dissenter." He remained unpopular with liberals who argued that his unwavering support on such issues as states rights served to endorse blatant discrimination against minorities and women. Nevertheless, he was also recognized as an extremely intelligent and well organized addition to the Court, and some note that his lone dissents became important in later shaping majority decisions.

No decision illustrated better Justice Rehnquist's orientation than his remarkable decision in National League of Cities v. Usery (1976). The issue was whether the federal minimum-wage law applied to all state and local government employees. In an earlier case the majority of the Court had decided in favor of the federal government. Rehnquist alone had dissented, arguing against decades of opinions decided since the New Deal that the wage law violated state sovereignty. But in National League of Cities four justices accepted the reasoning of his previous dissent and Rehnquist wrote for a 5-4 majority that "this Court has never doubted that there are limits upon the power of Congress to override state sovereignty."

By the early 1980s Justice Rehnquist found himself more often in the majority. This occurred not because he changed, but because the Court did. With President Ronald Reagan's appointment of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in 1981 Rehnquist and Chief Justice Burger gained a reliable third vote, which made it much easier to put together a majority whose views favored Rehnquist's views. Of 28 cases decided during the October 1984 term by a 5-4 vote, for example, the former "lone dissenter" was in the majority in 17. Slowly, the Court seemed to be shifting toward a discernibly conservative position more consistent with Rehnquist's views. Yet even so, the future was cloudy. Early in 1985 the Court overturned Rehnquist's National League of Cities opinion in Garcia v. San Antonio by a 5-4 vote.

When Chief Justice Burger resigned in 1986, President Reagan impressed with Rehnquist's intellect and conservative stances nominated him to be the nation's 16th chief justice, with Antonin Scalia named to the open associate justice slot. Liberals, and members of Congress who had long been at odds with Rehnquist were alarmed at the nomination. Allegations of past misdeeds (including a charge that he had harassed minority voters in Phoenix) were raised to try and thwart the confirmation, but nothing could stick in view of his years on the Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed both nominations.

Rehnquist proved an excellent administrator, lessening the Court's burgeoning case workload. Although he remained one of the most conservative justices, he also maintained a strong sense of independence. He had to endure charges that his opinions reflected his own personal politics more than actual judicial philosophy. However, when examined, it was noted that he often stood with the majority even if it crossed the established Republican line. In Morrison v Olson (1988) he upheld Congress' right to appoint independent counsel to investigate and prosecute government officials, over the strenuous objects of the Reagan administration, who had been responsible for his appointment to the Supreme Court. In 1996, he clashed openly with Republicans over their criticism of President Clinton's judicial appointments. As Chief Justice, Rehnquist brought order to the court and won striking support for judicial restraint from his colleagues. His belief that any move to weaken judicial independence would only serve to undermine the effectiveness of the federal courts was the cornerstone of his tenure at the Court. In a 1996 speech he said "Change is the law of life, and judiciary will have to change to meet the challenges which will face it in the future. But the independence of the federal judiciary is essential to its proper functioning and must be retained." Rehnquist was a pillar of conservative judicial thought on the nation's highest court.

Further Reading

The best treatment of Justice Rehnquist's role on the Supreme Court can be found in The Burger Court: The Counter-Revolution That Wasn't, Vincent Blasi, editor (1983). For Rehnquist's own views see his The Supreme Court: How It Was, How It Is (1987). An excellent article that covered both the course of Rehnquist's career and his ideas was "The Partisan: A Talk With Justice Rehnquist," by John A. Jenkins in New York Times Magazine (March 3, 1985). A specialized but nonetheless very good piece was Jeff Powell's "The Complete Jeffersonian: Justice Rehnquist and Federalism," The Yale Law Journal 91 (June 1982), which dealt especially with judicial theory and the National League of Cities opinion. Peter Iron's Brennan vs. Rehnquist: The Battle for the Constitution (1994) compared the conservative and liberal interpretations of the constitution and the courts. David Savage examined the rightward swing of the court in Turning Right: The Making of the Rehnquist Supreme Court Rehnquist's own views of the role of the federal judiciary can be found in a speech given May 1, 1996 in Vital Speeches May 1, 1996, p 418 The Future of the Federal Courts.

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Rehnquist, William Hubbs


William Hubbs Rehnquist was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 and was elevated to the position of chief justice in 1986. A political and judicial conservative, Rehnquist has consistently sought to limit the power of the federal government to intervene in areas that are traditionally left to the states.

Rehnquist was born on October 1, 1924, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1943, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and served until 1946. He then took advantage of the gi bill to attend college at Stanford University. After graduating in 1948 with both a bachelor's and a master's degree, Rehnquist earned a second master's degree in political science from Harvard University in 1949. He then attended Stanford University Law School, where he finished first in his 1952 graduating class.

Rehnquist then served as a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice robert h. jackson. It was during the 1952 term that the Court first

heard arguments on the constitutionality of state-segregated public education. In a memorandum to Jackson that would come back to haunt him at his judicial confirmation hearings, Rehnquist argued for upholding the separate but equal doctrine contained in plessy v. ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 16 S. Ct. 1138, 41 L. Ed. 256 (1896).

After he left his judicial clerkship in 1953, Rehnquist relocated to Phoenix, Arizona, where he joined the state bar and entered private practice. In 1958, he served as a special state prosecutor, bringing charges against several state highway officials who were accused of fraud. During his years of practice, he specialized in civil litigation.

Rehnquist's path to the U.S. Supreme Court began in Arizona republican party politics of the 1950s. Under the leadership of U.S. Senator barry m. goldwater, the party became the dominant force in Arizona government, espousing a political view that was more rigid and doctrinaire than that of the national Republican party. Rehnquist became active in the party and made the acquaintance of richard g. kleindienst, an attorney who chaired the state Republican Party and who was a close adviser to Goldwater. Kleindienst served as Rehnquist's political mentor and involved him in the 1964 presidential election that Goldwater lost to President lyndon b. johnson.

In 1968, Kleindienst worked on richard m. nixon's presidential campaign. After Nixon was elected, he appointed Kleindienst to be deputy attorney general. Kleindienst in turn recommended Rehnquist for the position of assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel in the u.s. justice department. Attorney General john n. mitchell was initially reluctant to hire Rehnquist, but, after interviewing him, Mitchell became convinced that Rehnquist was the right person for the job.

As head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Rehnquist supplied legal advice to all of the departments of the federal government. He also became one of the most stalwart defenders of the Nixon administration's policies. He supported preventive detention and the administration's authority to order wiretapping and surveillance without a court order. He also agreed that the exclusionary rule in criminal cases should be abolished. This rule excludes evidence that the police have seized illegally.

In 1971, President Nixon nominated Rehnquist to the U.S. Supreme Court. Senate Democrats, concerned about Rehnquist's conservative philosophy and his actions as a member of the Nixon administration, sought to defeat the nomination. They used Rehnquist's memorandum supporting the upholding of Plessy as evidence that he was hostile to civil rights. Despite these efforts, Rehnquist was easily confirmed.

Rehnquist joined a Court that was headed by Chief Justice warren e. burger. At the time of his appointment, the Court still had a liberal majority. Rehnquist immediately became the most conservative member of the Court. When the Court ruled in roe v. wade, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S. Ct. 705, 35 L. Ed. 2d 147 (1973), that a woman had the right to an abortion, Rehnquist dissented. He has remained consistently opposed to abortion but has never found enough votes to overturn Roe.

As justices retired or died during the 1970s and early 1980s, more conservative justices were appointed to the Court. Rehnquist's views on federalism began to be adopted by his colleagues. The concept of federalism concerns the distribution of power to the states and the federal government. Until the coming of franklin d. roosevelt's new deal in the 1930s, states had much more power over regulating day-today life than the federal government did. The liberal warren court of the 1960s greatly expanded the right of Congress to regulate economic and other societal activities.

By the late 1970s, Rehnquist helped convince a majority of the Court to begin to pull back from the idea that the federal government, which included the federal courts, could intrude into areas that traditionally were left to the states. In National League of Cities v. Usery, 426 U.S. 833, 96 S. Ct. 2465, 49 L. Ed. 2d 245 (1976), Rehnquist held that the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution did not give Congress the power to extend federal minimum wage and overtime standards to state and local governments.

Rehnquist wrote decisions that restricted the power of a federal court to oversee the reform of a police department (Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 96 S. Ct. 598, 46 L. Ed. 2d 561 [1976]); prohibited construing nineteenth-century federal civil rights laws to allow affirmative action (General Building Contractors v. Pennsylvania, 458 U.S. 375, 102 S. Ct. 3141, 73 L. Ed. 2d 835 [1982]); and prevented plaintiffs from collecting government benefits that had been wrongfully withheld by state governments (Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 94 S. Ct. 1347, 39 L. Ed. 2d 662 [1974]).

In cases involving criminal law and procedure, Rehnquist has consistently sided with law enforcement. In Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 103 S. Ct. 2317, 76 L. Ed. 2d 527 (1983), he crafted a new rule that made it easier for police to obtain a warrant on the basis of an informant's tip. He supported the creation of a "good faith" exception to the exclusionary rule (United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 104 S. Ct. 3405, 82 L. Ed. 2d 677 [1984]) and has upheld the constitutionality of pretrial detention (United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 107 S. Ct. 2095, 95 L. Ed. 2d 697 [1987]). Rehnquist has also been a consistent defender of the constitutionality of the death penalty and a consistent critic of lengthy and repetitive death penalty appeals based on the writ of habeas corpus.

In civil rights cases, Rehnquist has sought to tie affirmative action to specific discriminatory conduct against the plaintiffs, rather than to past societal wrongs. He did, however, write the majority opinion in Meritor Savings Bank, Federal Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 106 S. Ct. 2399, 91 L. Ed. 2d 49 (1986), which applied Title VII of the civil rights act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000a et seq.) to sexual harassment on the job. An employer may be held liable if a "hostile work environment" is created where sexual harassment takes place.

"Justice is too important a matter to be left to the judges, or even to the lawyers: the American people must think about, discuss, and contribute to the future of their courts."
—William H. Rehnquist

In 2000, Rehnquist wrote the lead opinion in boy scouts of america v. dale, 530 U.S. 640, 120 S. Ct. 2446, 147 L. Ed. 2d 554 (2000), where the Court held that applying a New Jersey public-accommodation law to require the Boy Scouts to admit homosexuals violated the first amendment. The case had been watched closely by gay and lesbian rights advocates. Some

commentators suggested that Rehnquist and the majority had relied too heavily on tradition in making the ruling. However, others maintained that the decision was consistent with others in First Amendment jurisprudence.

In recognition of Rehnquist's record on the Court, President ronald reagan nominated him in 1986 to succeed Chief Justice Burger. Again, there was some opposition to his nomination, but he was easily confirmed.

Although Presidents Ronald Reagan and george h. w. bush appointed conservatives to the Court after Rehnquist became chief justice, the Rehnquist Court has maintained a moderate course. Justices sandra day o'connor, david h. souter, and anthony m. kennedy, who have moderately conservative views, have resisted calls from Rehnquist and Justices antonin scalia and clarence thomas to overturn Court precedents, including Roe v. Wade.

Rehnquist presided over the Senate impeachment trial of President bill clinton during January and February 1999. He assumed the role based on Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution, which provides that the chief justice shall preside when the president of the United States is tried, but it offers no guidance as to what the chief justice's role should be. Clinton's impeachment marked the second time in U.S. history that a chief justice has presided over the impeachment trial of a president. Rehnquist shares this distinction with his predecessor, salmon p. chase, who presided over the 1868 trial and subsequent acquittal of President andrew johnson.

Rehnquist modeled the Senate proceedings after the 1868 trial. The trial little resembled a typical courtroom trial because the chief justice's authority was rigidly circumscribed. The rules mandated that senators sit mute through the trial. Only Rehnquist could ask questions upon the written request of the senators. He had the authority to decide questions of procedure and admissibility of evidence, but the Senate had the power to overturn any ruling by a simple majority vote. Rehnquist was not called upon to rule on any evidentiary issues, nor was he asked to decide what questions a witness could be asked.

further readings

Belsky, Martin H., ed. 2002. The Rehnquist Court: A Retrospective. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Rehnquist, William H. 2001. The Supreme Court. New York: Knopf.

Schwartz, Herman, ed. 2002. The Rehnquist Court: Judicial Activism on the Right. New York: Hill and Wang.

Yarbrough, Tinsley E. 2000. The Rehnquist Court and the Constitution. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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Rehnquist, William Hubbs

William Hubbs Rehnquist (rĕn´kwĬst), 1924–2005, American public official, 16th chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1986–2005), b. Milwaukee, Wis., as William Donald Rehnquist. After receiving his law degree from Stanford Univ. in 1952, he served (1952–53) as law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson. The following year he went to Phoenix, where he practiced law and became involved in conservative Republican politics. He was (1968–71) an assistant U.S. attorney general, heading the office of legal counsel in the Dept. of Justice before being named (1971) an associate justice of the Supreme Court by President Nixon. Generally regarded as one of the more conservative members of the late 20th cent. Supreme Court, Rehnquist became known as an advocate of law and order, writing several opinions reversing the liberal trend of the Earl Warren court in criminal cases. He was named chief justice in 1986 by President Reagan, succeeding Warren Burger. The Rehnquist court was generally conservative, but the conservatism of the chief justice and the more ideological Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas was tempered beginning in the late 1990s by the emergence of a judicially restrained bloc of justices including Sandra Day O'Connor, David Souter, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

See biography by J. A. Jenkins (2012).

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Rehnquist, William Hubbs

Rehnquist, William Hubbs (1924– ) US jurist and lawyer. A political conservative, he was chosen by President Nixon to direct the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice (1968–71). In 1971 Nixon appointed him an associate justice of the US Supreme Court.

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