Rehnquist, William H. 1924–2005

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Rehnquist, William H. 1924–2005

(William Hubbs Rehnquist)

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born October 1, 1924, in Milwaukee, WI; died of thyroid cancer, September 3, 2005, in Arlington, VA. Lawyer, Supreme Court justice, and author. Elected to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972, Rehnquist served as chief justice from 1986 until his death in 2005. The son of conservative Republican parents, he served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. However, he found himself assigned as a weather observer in northern Africa and never saw active combat. Honorably discharged in 1946 with the rank of sergeant, he enrolled at Stanford University. Here he earned both a B.A. and M.A. in political science in 1948. Out of curiosity, Rehnquist decided to take an aptitude test in law and discovered that he indeed had the potential to become an attorney. After earning a second master's degree at Harvard University in 1949, he returned to Stanford to attend law school, completing his degree in 1952. Immediately afterward, he took a job as law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson. The next year, he was called to the Bar of Arizona and then joined the firm of Evans, Kitchel & Jenckes in Phoenix. During the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Rehnquist was a Phoenix law-firm partner, first with Ragan & Rehnquist, then with Cunningham, Carson & Messenger, and finally with Powers & Rehnquist. While in Phoenix, Rehnquist became friends with a Richard Nixon campaigner named Richard G. Kleindienst, and it was through Kleindienst that he was recommended for the job of assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel. Rehnquist worked in the Justice Department from 1969 through 1971; his conservative interpretation of the law appealed to those in the Nixon administration, and when U.S. Supreme Court Justice John M. Harlan retired, the president selected Rehnquist as a replacement. After enduring a lengthy confirmation hearing in Congress, Rehnquist was accepted and he joined the court in 1972. At the time, the U.S. Supreme Court was dominated by liberal justices led by Chief Justice Warren Burger and supported by such luminaries as Thurgood Marshall. Rehnquist's conservative interpretation of the U.S. Constitution therefore had little impact for the first few years he was in office. However, this changed after President Ronald Reagan was elected and proceeded to appoint three conservative justices and make Rehnquist chief justice in 1986. Rehnquist had a well-defined ideology and view of the law, which he held to consistently throughout his years as justice. A selfdescribed pluralist, he felt that no branch of the government should be given more power than any other, including the Supreme Court and all federal courts; he also felt that state law should be given more weight under the Constitution, with fewer powers given to federal law and authority; furthermore, he believed that just because a legal precedent was set by previous courts did not mean that such a precedent was binding and could not be overturned. Over the years, Rehnquist's views profoundly shaped the law in the United States, and his court made decisions on important cases involving such matters as the separation of church and state, interstate commerce, the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, gun laws, and due process, among many others. One of the most controversial cases facing his court came near the end of his career when the 2000 presidential race between Democratic candidate Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush came down to the contested election results in the state of Florida. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a five-to-four decision, concluded that there should be no recount and that Bush's slim 6,000-vote lead should stand. The result was that Bush won the election through the decision of the Electoral College, even though Gore had a majority of the popular vote. Rehnquist sided with the majority on the case. In his final months on the bench, Rehnquist suffered considerably from thyroid cancer, missing many sessions but resolving to stay in office nevertheless. He wrote about the court in his 1987 book, The Supreme Court: How It Was, How It Is (revised edition, 2001), and was also the author of such books as All the Laws but One: Civil Liberties in Wartime (1998) and Centennial Crisis: The Disputed Election of 1876 (2004).



Chicago Tribune, September 5, 2005, section 1, pp. 1, 9-10.

Los Angeles Times, September 4, 2005, pp. A1, A20-A21.

New York Times, September 5, 2005, pp. A16-A18.

Times (London, England), September 5, 2005, p. 51.

Washington Post, September 5, 2005, pp. A1, A8.