William Rehnquist

William Hubbs Rehnquist
Enlarge picture
William Rehnquist

Nominated byRonald Reagan
Preceded by
Succeeded by


William Hubbs Rehnquist (October 1 1924September 3 2005) was an American lawyer, jurist, and a political figure who served as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States and later as the Chief Justice of the United States. Considered a conservative and strict constructionist, Rehnquist favored a federalism under which the states meaningfully exercised governmental power.[1] Under this view of federalism, the Supreme Court of the United States, for the first time since the 1930s, struck down an Act of Congress as exceeding federal power under the Commerce Clause.

Rehnquist presided as Chief Justice for 19 years, making him the fourth-longest-serving Chief Justice after Melville Fuller, Roger Taney and John Marshall, and the longest-serving Chief Justice who had previously served as an Associate Justice. The last 11 years of Rehnquist's term as Chief Justice (1994–2005) marked the second-longest tenure of one makeup of the Supreme Court.

Early life

Rehnquist was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as William Donald Rehnquist[2] and grew up in the suburb of Shorewood. His father, William Benjamin Rehnquist, was a paper salesman; his mother, Margery Peck Rehnquist, was a translator and homemaker. Rehnquist changed his middle name to Hubbs, his grandmother's maiden name, during his high school years.

He graduated from Shorewood High School in 1942.[3] Rehnquist attended Kenyon College, in Gambier, Ohio, for one quarter in the fall of 1942, before entering the U.S. Army Air Forces. Rehnquist served in World War II from March, 1943 to 1946. He was put into a pre-meteorology program and was assigned to Denison University until February, 1944, when the program was shut down. He served three months at Will Rogers Field in Oklahoma City, three months in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and then went to Hondo, Texas for a few months. He was then chosen for another training program, which began at Chanute Field, Illinois, and ended at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. The program was designed to teach the maintenance and repair of weather instruments. In the summer of 1945, he went overseas and served as a weather observer in North Africa.

After the war ended, Rehnquist attended Stanford University with assistance under the provisions of the G.I. Bill. In 1948, he received a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in political science. In 1950, he went to Harvard University, where he received a master's degree in government. He returned later to the Stanford Law School, where he graduated in the same class as Sandra Day O'Connor, who would later serve alongside him on the Supreme Court. Sandra Day and Rehnquist briefly dated at Stanford.[4] It has been said that Rehnquist graduated first in his class, probably based on the fact that he was class valedictorian during graduation ceremonies, but Stanford's official position is that the law school did not rank students in 1952.[5]

Law Clerk at the Supreme Court

Rehnquist went to Washington, D.C. to work as a law clerk for Justice Robert H. Jackson during the court's 1952–1953 term.[6] There, he wrote a memorandum arguing against federal-court-ordered school desegregation while the court was considering the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education, which was later decided in 1954. Rehnquist’s 1952 memo, entitled “A Random Thought on the Segregation Cases,” defended the separate-but-equal doctrine. In that memo, Rehnquist said:

I realize that it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position, for which I have been excoriated by 'liberal' colleagues but I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed.... To the argument ... that a majority may not deprive a minority of its constitutional right, the answer must be made that while this is sound in theory, in the long run it is the majority who will determine what the constitutional rights of the minority are.[7]

In both his 1971 hearing for Associate Justice and his 1986 hearing for Chief Justice of the United States, Rehnquist alleged that the memorandum reflected the views of Justice Jackson rather than his own views. Rehnquist said, "I believe that the memorandum was prepared by me as a statement of Justice Jackson's tentative views for his own use."[8] Elsie Douglas, long-time secretary and confidante of Justice Jackson, stated during Rehnquist’s 1986 hearings that Rehnquist’s allegation “is a smear of a great man, for whom I served as secretary for many years. Justice Jackson did not ask law clerks to express his views. He expressed his own and they expressed theirs. That is what happened in this instance.”[9] However, the papers of Justices Douglas and Frankfurter indicate that Justice Jackson only voted for Brown in 1954 after changing his mind.[10] At his 1986 hearings for the slot of Chief Justice, Rehnquist tried to put further distance between himself and the 1952 memo: "The bald statement that 'Plessy was right and should be reaffirmed,' was not an accurate reflection of my own views at the time."[11] But, Rehnquist acknowledged defending Plessy in arguments with fellow law clerks.[12] Some commentators have concluded that the memo reflected Rehnquist’s own views rather than those of Justice Jackson.[13][14] In any event, while later serving on the Supreme Court, Rehnquist made no effort to reverse or undermine the Brown decision, and frequently relied upon it as precedent.[15]

Regarding Terry v. Adams,[16] which was about the right of African-Americans to vote in an allegedly private Texas election, Rehnquist wrote the following in a memorandum to Justice Jackson:
The Constitution does not prevent the majority from banding together, nor does it attaint success in the effort. It is about time the Court faced the fact that the white people of the south don’t like the colored people: the constitution restrains them from effecting this dislike through state action but it most assuredly did not appoint the Court as a sociological watchdog to rear up every time private discrimination raises its admittedly ugly head.[17]

In another memorandum to Justice Jackson regarding the same case (Terry), Rehnquist wrote:

[C]lerks began screaming as soon as they saw this that "Now we can show those damn southerners, etc".... I take a dim view of this pathological search for discrimination ... and as a result I now have something of a mental block against the case.[18]

Nevertheless, Rehnquist recommended to Justice Jackson that the Supreme Court should agree to hear the Terry case.

Private Practice

Rehnquist moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he was in private law practice from 1953 to 1969. During these years, he was active in the Republican Party and served as a legal advisor to Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign. Many years later, during the 1986 Senate hearings on his chief justice nomination, several people came forward to complain about what they viewed as Rehnquist's attempts to discourage minority voters in Arizona elections when Rehnquist served as a "poll watcher" in the early 1960s. Rehnquist denied the charges, and "Vincent Maggiore, then chairman of the Phoenix-area Democratic Party, said he had never heard any negative reports about Rehnquist's Election Day activities. 'All of these things,' he said, 'would have come through me.'"[19]

Justice Department

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. Because he was well-placed in the Justice Department, Rehnquist was mentioned for many years as a possibility for the source known as Deep Throat during the Watergate scandal. (Once Bob Woodward revealed on May 31, 2005, that W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat, this speculation ended, of course.) It was William Rehnquist who first determined that Government National Mortgage Association guarantees constituted a full faith and credit promise of the United States.

Associate Justice

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Rehnquist portrait as an Associate Justice in 1972.
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 legalized abortions, dissenting in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), and in favor of school prayer, capital punishment and states' rights. Reluctant to compromise, Rehnquist was the most frequent sole dissenter during the Burger years, garnering the nickname "the Lone Ranger". He actively sought to promote his conservative agenda within the Court, especially in the area of federalism, and voted most often alongside the also conservative Chief Justice Burger.

He expressed his views about the Equal Protection Clause in cases like Trimble v. Gordon:[20]

"Unfortunately, more than a century of decisions under this Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment have produced .... a syndrome wherein this Court seems to regard the Equal Protection Clause as a cat-o'-nine-tails to be kept in the judicial closet as a threat to legislatures which may, in the view of the judiciary, get out of hand and pass 'arbitrary,' 'illogical,' or 'unreasonable' laws. Except in the area of the law in which the Framers obviously meant it to apply — classifications based on race or on national origin, the first cousin of race — the Court's decisions can fairly be described as an endless tinkering with legislative judgments, a series of conclusions unsupported by any central guiding principle."

Yet, nineteen years later, Rehnquist would agree to strike down the male-only admissions policy of the Virginia Military Institute, as violative of this Clause.[21] Rehnquist remained skeptical about the Court's Equal Protection Clause jurisprudence; some of his opinions most favorable to equality resulted from statutory rather than constitutional interpretation. For example, in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (1986), Rehnquist established a hostile-environment sexual harassment cause of action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including protection against psychological aspects of harassment in the workplace.

Rehnquist wrote the decision Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U.S. 175 (1981), which punched a hole in the dike against software patents in the United States erected by Justice Stevens in Parker v. Flook, 437 U.S. 584 (1978); the dike collapsed within a few years and software patenting is now virtually unlimited. In Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc., pertaining to video cassette recorders such as the Betamax system, Justice Stevens again wrote an opinion providing a broad fair use doctrine while Rehnquist joined the dissent, which supported stronger copyrights. Years later, in Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186 (2003), Rehnquist was in the majority favoring the copyright holders, with Justice Stevens dissenting in favor of a narrower construction of copyright law.

Rehnquist was prescribed the sedative ethchlorvynol (Placidyl) by Dr. Freeman H. Cary, a physician at the U.S. Capitol, for insomnia and back pain from 1972 through 1981 in doses exceeding the recommended limits. However, an FBI report concluded that Rehnquist was already using Placidyl as early as 1970.[22] On December 27 1981, Rehnquist entered George Washington University Hospital for treatment of back pain and physical dependency on Placidyl. While hospitalized, he had typical withdrawal symptoms from this "highly toxic" drug, including hallucinations and paranoia — at one point he thought the CIA was plotting against him.[23] In 1981, prior to the hospitalization, Rehnquist had slurred his words for several weeks, but there were no indications he was otherwise impaired.[22] According to USA Today Supreme Court correspondent Joan Biskupic, "There's no sign that [Rehnquist] wasn't keeping up with his work" over the period he was taking Placidyl.[24] Law professor Michael Dorf has observed that, "none of the Justices, law clerks or others who served with Rehnquist have so much as hinted that his Placidyl addiction affected his work, beyond its impact on his speech."[25]

Alexander Charns, a Durham, North Carolina, lawyer, says that when Rehnquist was nominated for Chief Justice, the Reagan administration, like the Nixon administration, used the FBI to plot against witnesses who opposed Rehnquist’s nomination. Charns claims his allegations are supported by FBI files that were declassified after Rehnquist's death in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.[23][22] The file shows that the FBI investigated witnesses testifying both for and against Rehnquist's confirmations, and "the FBI file adds surprisingly little to a balanced assessment of his judicial career."[26]

Chief Justice

See also:

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William Rehnquist (left) takes the oath as Chief Justice from retiring Warren Burger at the White House in 1986, as his wife, Natalie, holds a Bible and President Ronald Reagan looks on.

When Chief Justice Warren Burger retired in 1986, President Ronald Reagan nominated Rehnquist to fill the position. During confirmation hearings, Senator Edward Kennedy challenged Rehnquist on his unwitting ownership of property that had a restrictive covenant against sale to Jews; such covenants are unenforceable under Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948).[27] Despite this and other controversies, the Senate confirmed his appointment by a 65-33 vote, and he assumed the office on September 26. Rehnquist's seat as an associate justice was filled by Antonin Scalia.

The two most visible aspects of Rehnquist's tenure as Chief were his presiding over the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton and the Bush v. Gore decision. In 1999, Rehnquist became the second Chief Justice (after Salmon P. Chase) to preside over a presidential impeachment trial, during the proceedings against President Bill Clinton. In 2000, Rehnquist wrote a concurring opinion in Bush v. Gore, the case that effectively ended the presidential election controversy in Florida. He concurred with six other justices in that case the Equal Protection Clause barred a "standardless" manual recount of the votes as ordered by the Florida Supreme Court. In his capacity as Chief Justice, Rehnquist administered the Oath of Office to Presidents George H.W. Bush (once), Bill Clinton (twice) and George W. Bush (twice).

Federalism Doctrine

Rehnquist was expected to push the Supreme Court in a more conservative direction during his tenure. One area many commentators expected to see changes was in limiting the power of the federal government and in increasing the power of state governments.

Chief Justice Rehnquist voted with the majority in City of Boerne v. Flores (1997), and would later refer to that decision as precedent for requiring Congress to defer to the Court as regards interpretion of the Fourteenth Amendment (including the Equal Protection Clause) in a number of cases. Boerne held that any statute that Congress enacted to enforce the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment (including the Equal Protection Clause) had to show "a congruence and proportionality between the injury to be prevented or remedied and the means adopted to that end." The Rehnquist Court’s congruence and proportionality theory replaced the "ratchet" theory that had arguably been advanced in Katzenbach v. Morgan (1966). According to the "ratchet" theory, Congress could "ratchet up" civil rights beyond what the Court had recognized, but Congress could not "ratchet down" judicially recognized rights. According to the majority opinion of Justice Kennedy, which Chief Justice Rehnquist joined in Boerne:

There is language in our opinion in Katzenbach v. Morgan, 384 U.S. 641 (1966), which could be interpreted as acknowledging a power in Congress to enact legislation that expands the rights contained in §1 of the Fourteenth Amendment. This is not a necessary interpretation, however, or even the best one.... If Congress could define its own powers by altering the Fourteenth Amendment's meaning, no longer would the Constitution be "superior paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means."

The Rehnquist Court's congruence and proportionality standard made it easier to revive older precedents preventing Congress from going too far in enforcing equal protection of the laws.

One of the Rehnquist Court's major developments involved reinforcing and extending the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which limits the ability of Congress to subject non-consenting states to lawsuits by individual citizens seeking money damages.

In both Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents (2000) and Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett (2001), the Court held that Congress had exceeded its power to enforce the Equal Protection Clause. In both those cases, Chief Justice Rehnquist was in the majority that held discrimination by states based upon age or disability (as opposed to race or gender) need only satisfy rational basis review as opposed to strict scrutiny.

Though the Eleventh Amendment by its terms applies only to suits against a State by citizens of another State, the Rehnquist Court often extended this principle to suits by citizens against their own States. One such case was Alden v. Maine (1999), in which the Court explained that the authority to subject states to private suits does not follow from any of the express enumerated powers in Article One of the Constitution, and therefore the Alden Court looked to the Necessary-and-proper clause to see if that Clause authorized Congress to subject the states to lawsuits by the state's own citizens. Chief Justice Rehnquist agreed with Justice Kennedy's statement that such lawsuits were not "necessary and proper":

Nor can we conclude that the specific Article I powers delegated to Congress necessarily include, by virtue of the Necessary and Proper Clause or otherwise, the incidental authority to subject the States to private suits as a means of achieving objectives otherwise within the scope of the enumerated powers.

However, the Court acknowledged that various amendments to the Constitution were intended to give Congress power to abrogate sovereign immunity, one of those amendments being the Fourteenth, and thus Congress may authorize suits for money damages pursuant to (for example) its power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment, which includes the Equal Protection Clause.

Chief Justice Rehnquist also led the Court toward a more limited view of Congressional power under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. For example, he wrote for a 5-to-4 majority in United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995), striking down a federal law as exceeding congressional power under the commerce clause.

Lopez was followed by United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000), in which Rehnquist wrote the Court's opinion striking down the civil damages portion of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 as regulating conduct that does not have a significant direct effect on interstate commerce. Rehnquist's majority opinion in Morrison also rejected an Equal Protection argument on behalf of the Act. All four dissenters disagreed with the Court's interpretation of the Commerce Clause, and two dissenters (Stevens and Breyer) also took issue with the Court's Equal Protection analysis. Regarding the Commerce Clause, Justice Souter asserted that the Court was improperly seeking to convert the judiciary into a "shield against the commerce power."

Regarding the Equal Protection Clause, Chief Justice Rehnquist's majority opinion in Morrison cited precedents limiting the Clause's scope, such as United States v. Cruikshank (1876), which held that the Fourteenth Amendment applied only to state actions, not private acts of violence. Dissenting Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Stevens, agreed with the majority that it "is certainly so" that Congress may not "use the Fourteenth Amendment as a source of power to remedy the conduct of private persons." However, Breyer and Stevens took issue with another aspect of the Morrison Court's Equal Protection analysis: they argued that cases that the majority had cited (including United States v. Harris and the Civil Rights Cases regarding lynching and segregation respectively) did not consider "this kind of claim" in which state actors "failed to provide adequate (or any) state remedies." In response, the Morrison majority asserted that the Violence Against Women Act was "directed not at any State or state actor, but at individuals who have committed criminal acts motivated by gender bias."

The federalist trend set by Lopez and Morrison was seemingly halted by Gonzales v. Raich (2005), in which the court broadly interpreted the Commerce Clause to allow Congress prohibit the intrastate cultivation of medicinal cannabis. Rehnquist, along with O'Connor and Thomas, dissented in Raich.

Rehnquist authored the majority opinion in South Dakota v. Dole (1987) upholding Congress's reduction of funds to states not complying with the national 21-year-old drinking age. Rehnquist's broad reading of Congress's spending power was also seen as a major limitation on the Rehnquist Court's push towards redistribution of power from the federal government to the states.

Stare Decisis

Many commentators also expected the Rehnquist Court to overrule several of its controversial decisions broadly interpreting the Bill of Rights. The Rehnquist Court, however, specifically declined to overrule Roe v. Wade and Miranda v. Arizona.

Chief Justice Rehnquist was a foe of the Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. In 1992, that decision survived by a 5-4 vote, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which relied heavily on the doctrine of stare decisis. Dissenting in Casey, Rehnquist criticized the Court's "newly minted variation on stare decisis," and asserted his belief "that Roe was wrongly decided, and that it can and should be overruled consistently with our traditional approach to stare decisis in constitutional cases."

Rehnquist was not reluctant to apply stare decisis when he believed appropriate. For example, in Dickerson v. United States (2000), Rehnquist voted to reaffirm the Court's famous decision in Miranda v. Arizona (1966) based not only on the notion of adhering to precedent, but also based on his belief that "the totality-of-the-circumstances test ... is more difficult than Miranda for law enforcement officers to conform to, and for courts to apply in a consistent manner." Shortly after Dickerson was decided, the Court dealt with another abortion case, this time dealing with so-called partial birth abortion in Stenberg v. Carhart (2000). Again, a 5-4 decision, and again a dissent from Rehnquist urged that stare decisis should not be the sole consideration: "I did not join the joint opinion in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833 (1992), and continue to believe that case is wrongly decided."

Gay Rights

Among the many closely-watched decisions during Chief Justice Rehnquist's tenure was Romer v. Evans (1996). Colorado had adopted an amendment to the state constitution ("Amendment 2") that the Court majority said would have prevented any city, town or county in the state from taking any legislative, executive, or judicial action to protect homosexual citizens from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation. Rehnquist joined the dissent, which argued that the Constitution of the United States says nothing about this subject, so "it is left to be resolved by normal democratic means." The dissent, written by Justice Scalia, argued as follows (punctuation omitted):

General laws and policies that prohibit arbitrary discrimination would continue to prohibit discrimination on the basis of homosexual conduct as well. This ... lays to rest such horribles, raised in the course of oral argument, as the prospect that assaults upon homosexuals could not be prosecuted. The amendment prohibits special treatment of homosexuals, and nothing more. It would not affect, for example, a requirement of state law that pensions be paid to all retiring state employees with a certain length of service; homosexual employees, as well as others, would be entitled to that benefit.

The dissent mentioned the Court's then-existing precedent in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), that "the Constitution does not prohibit what virtually all States had done from the founding of the Republic until very recent years — making homosexual conduct a crime." By analogy, the Romer dissent reasoned that, "If it is rational to criminalize the conduct, surely it is rational to deny special favor and protection to those with a self avowed tendency or desire to engage in the conduct." The dissent listed murder, polygamy, and cruelty to animals as behaviors that the federal Constitution allows states to be very hostile toward, and in contrast the dissent stated: "the degree of hostility reflected by Amendment 2 is the smallest conceivable." The Romer dissent added:

I would not myself indulge in ... official praise for heterosexual monogamy, because I think it no business of the courts (as opposed to the political branches) to take sides in this culture war. But the Court today has done so, not only by inventing a novel and extravagant constitutional doctrine to take the victory away from traditional forces, but even by verbally disparaging as bigotry adherence to traditional attitudes.

The Supreme Court under Rehnquist went on to overrule Bowers in 2003's Lawrence v. Texas, with Rehnquist again dissenting along with Scalia and Thomas. The Court's result in Romer, which seemed to reach the inexplicable conclusion that states could enact sodomy laws targeting homosexuals but could not enact state constitutional amendments denying homosexuals other sorts of rights, was clarified significantly by the Lawrence decision.

Rehnquist sometimes reached results favorable to homosexual persons, for example voting to allow a gay CIA employee to sue for improper personnel practices, voting to allow same-sex sexual harassment claims to be adjudicated, and voting to allow the University of Wisconsin-Madison to require students to pay a mandatory fee that subsidized gay groups along with all other student organizations.[28]

Civil Rights Act

Rehnquist voted with the majority in denying a private right to sue for discrimination based on race or national origin involving a disparate impact under title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in Alexander v. Sandoval (2001), which involved the issue of whether a citizen could sue a state for not providing driver license exams in languages other than English. Sandoval cited Cannon v. University of Chicago (1979) as a precedent. The Court voted 5-4 that various facts (regarding disparate impact) mentioned in a footnote of Cannon were not part of the holding of Cannon. The majority also viewed it as significant that §602 of Title VI did not repeat the rights-creating language (race, color, or national origin) in §601.

Religion Clauses

Chief Justice Rehnquist also led the way in allowing greater state assistance to religious schools, writing for another 5-to-4 majority in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris. In Zelman, the Court approved a school voucher program that aided church schools along with other private schools.

In June of 2005, Rehnquist wrote the plurality opinion upholding the constitutionality of a display of the Ten Commandments at the Texas state capitol in Austin. The case was Van Orden v. Perry. Rehnquist wrote:

Our cases, Janus like, point in two directions in applying the Establishment Clause. One face looks toward the strong role played by religion and religious traditions throughout our Nation's history.... The other face looks toward the principle that governmental intervention in religious matters can itself endanger religious freedom.

This decision was joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas, Breyer, and Kennedy.

Declining health and death

On October 26, 2004, the Supreme Court press office announced that Rehnquist had recently been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. After several months out of the public eye, Rehnquist administered the oath of office to President George W. Bush at his second inauguration on January 20, 2005, despite doubts over whether his health would permit his participation. He arrived using a cane, walked very slowly, and left immediately after the oath itself was administered.

After missing 44 oral arguments before the Court in late 2004 and early 2005, Rehnquist appeared on the bench again on March 21, 2005. During his absence, however, he remained involved in the business of the Court, participating in many of the decisions and deliberations from his home.

On July 1, 2005, Rehnquist's colleague Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement from her position of Associate Justice, after consulting with Rehnquist and learning that he intended to remain on the Court. Commenting on the frenzy of speculation over his retirement, Rehnquist joked with a reporter who asked if he would be retiring, "That's for me to know and you to find out."[29]

Rehnquist died at his Arlington, Virginia, home on September 3, 2005, exactly four weeks short of his 81st birthday. Rehnquist was the first member of the Supreme Court to die in office since Justice Robert H. Jackson in 1954, and the first Chief Justice to die in office since Fred M. Vinson, in 1953.

On September 6, 2005, eight of Rehnquist's former law clerks, including Judge John Roberts, his eventual successor, served as his pallbearers as his casket was placed on the same catafalque that bore Abraham Lincoln's casket as he lay in state in 1865.[30] Rehnquist's body remained in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court until his funeral on September 7, 2005, a Lutheran service conducted at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C. The presiding minister was George Evans, the former chief of Chaplains for the US Navy. Rehnquist was eulogized by President George W. Bush and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, as well as by members of his family.[31] His funeral was followed by a private burial service, in which he was interred next to his late wife, Nan, at Arlington National Cemetery.[32]

Succession as Chief Justice

Rehnquist's death, just over two months after O'Connor announced her retirement, left two vacancies to be filled by President George W. Bush. On September 5, 2005, Bush withdrew the nomination of Judge John Roberts of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to replace O'Connor as Associate Justice, and instead nominated him to replace Rehnquist as Chief Justice. Roberts was confirmed by the U.S. Senate and sworn in as the new Chief Justice on September 29, 2005. Roberts had clerked for Rehnquist in 1980–1981.

Family life


  • Thomas R. Hensley. The Rehnquist Court Justices, Rulings, and Legacy (2006) Print 1-57607-200-2; eBook 1-57607-560-5
  • David L. Hudson. The Rehnquist Court: Understanding Its Impact and Legacy (2006)
  • Herman Schwartz. The Rehnquist Court: Judicial Activism on the Right (2003)
  • Mark Tushnet. A Court Divided: The Rehnquist Court and the Future of Constitutional Law (2005)

Books written by Rehnquist

  • William H. Rehnquist (2004). The Centennial Crisis: The Disputed Election of 1876. Knopf Publishing Group. ISBN 0-375-41387-1. 
  • William H. Rehnquist (1998). All the Laws but One : Civil Liberties in Wartime. William Morrow & Co. ISBN 0-688-05142-1|. 
  • William H. Rehnquist (1992). Grand Inquests: The Historic Impeachments of Justice Samuel Chase and President Andrew Johnson. Knopf Publishing Group. ISBN 0-679-44661-3. 
  • William H. Rehnquist (1987). The Supreme Court: How It Was, How It Is. William Morrow & Co. ISBN 0-688-05714-4. 
  • Revised edition: William H. Rehnquist (2001). The Supreme Court: A new edition of the Chief Justice's classic history. Knopf Publishing Group. ISBN 0-375-40943-2. 


1. ^ [1]
2. ^ Greenhouse, Linda. Becoming Justice Blackmun. 235–236. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2005.
3. ^ Lane, Charles. "Head of the Class: Fresh from service in World War II, William Rehnquist went west unsure of his future. What he found on the Farm changed his life, and the future of the country.", Stanford Magazine, July / August 2005. Accessed September 17, 2007. "So, for the brainy kid they’d called “Bugs” back home at suburban Shorewood High School, just outside Milwaukee, weather was a key criterion in selecting a college."
4. ^ Biskupic, Joan. Sandra Day O'Connor: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court became its most influential justice. New York: Harper Collins, 2005
5. ^ Debbie Kornmiller, O'Connor's class rank an error that won't die, Arizona Daily Star (July 10, 2005).
6. ^ Biskupic, Joan. "Rehnquist left Supreme Court with conservative legacy." USA Today. Sept. 4, 2005.
7. ^ William Rehnquist, "A Random Thought on the Segregation Cases", S. Hrg. 99-1067, Hearings Before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on the Nomination of Justice William Hubbs Rehnquist to be Chief Justice of the United States (July 29, 30, 31, and August 1, 1986).
8. ^ 1971 confirmation hearings
9. ^ 132 Cong. Rec. 23548 (Speech of Senator Paul Sarbanes), 1986, <[2]
10. ^ Justice William O. Douglas wrote: “In the original conference there were only four who voted that segregation in the public schools was unconstitutional. Those four were Black, Burton, Minton, and myself.” See Bernard Schwartz, Decision: How the Supreme Court Decides Cases, page 96 (Oxford 1996). Likewise, Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote: “I have no doubt that if the segregation cases had reached decision last term, there would have been four dissenters — Vinson, Reed, Jackson, and Clark.” Id.
11. ^ Adam Liptak, The Memo That Rehnquist Wrote and Had to Disown, NY Times (September 11, 2005)
12. ^ Memos may not hold Roberts's opinions, The Boston Globe, Peter S. Canellos, August 23, 2005 Here is what Rehnquist said in 1986 about his conversations with other clerks about Plessy:
I thought Plessy had been wrongly decided at the time, that it was not a good interpretation of the equal protection clause to say that when you segregate people by race, there is no denial of equal protection. But Plessy had been on the books for 60 years; Congress had never acted, and the same Congress that had promulgated the 14th Amendment had required segregation in the District schools.... I saw factors on both sides.... I did not agree then, and I certainly do not agree now, with the statement that Plessy against Ferguson is right and should be reaffirmed. I had ideas on both sides, and I do not think I ever really finally settled in my own mind on that .... [A]round the lunch table I am sure I defended it.... I thought there were good arguments to be made in support of it.
S. Hrg. 99-1067, Hearings Before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on the Nomination of Justice William Hubbs Rehnquist to be Chief Justice of the United States (July 29, 30, 31, and August 1, 1986).
13. ^ Schwartz, Bernard (1988), "Chief Justice Rehnquist, Justice Jackson, and the "Brown" Case", Supreme Court Review 1988 (1988): pp 245–267., <[3]
14. ^ Kluger, Richard (1976). Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality, 606 n. 
15. ^ Cases where Justice Rehnquist has cited Brown v. Board of Education in support of a proposition, S. Hrg. 99-1067, Hearings Before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on the Nomination of Justice William Hubbs Rehnquist to be Chief Justice of the United States (July 29, 30, 31, and August 1, 1986). Also see Jeffery Rosen, Rehnquist the Great?, Atlantic Monthly (April 2005) ("Rehnquist ultimately embraced the Warren Court's Brown decision, and after he joined the Court he made no attempt to dismantle the civil-rights revolution, as political opponents feared he would").
16. ^ Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461 (1953)
17. ^
Charles Lane, Head of the Class, Stanford Magazine (July/August 2005)
18. ^ Tinsley E. Yarbrough, The Rehnquist Court and the Constitution, pages 2–3 (2000).
19. ^ Amy Wilentz, Through the Wringer, Time Magazine (Aug. 11, 1986).
20. ^ Trimble v. Gordon, 430 U.S. 762 (1977)
21. ^ United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996)
22. ^ "Rehnquist FBI File Sheds New Light on Drug Dependence, Confirmation Battles", by Tony Mauro. Legal Times, published 4 January 2007. Accessed 4 January 2007.
23. ^ CNN, FBI: Rehnquist hallucinated, tried pajama escape. Accessed 4 January 2007
24. ^ Jack Shafer, "Rehnquist's Drug Habit", Slate (September 9, 2005).
25. ^ Michael C. Dorf, The Big News in the Rehnquist FBI File: There is None, Findlaw's Writ (Jan. 15, 2007).
26. ^ Michael C. Dorf, The Big News in the Rehnquist FBI File: There is None Findlaw's Writ (Jan. 15, 2007).
27. ^ Alan S. Oser, Unenforceable Covenants are in Many Deeds, New York Times (August 1, 1986):
Mr. Rehnquist has said he was unaware of discriminatory restrictions on properties he bought in Arizona and Vermont, and officials in those states said today that he had never even been required to sign the deeds that contained the restrictions.... He told the committee he would act quickly to get rid of the covenants. The restriction on the Vermont property prohibits the lease or sale of the property to "members of the Hebrew race".... The discriminatory language appears on the first page of the single-spaced document in the middle of a long paragraph filled with unrelated language regarding sewers and the construction of a mailbox.

28. ^ See respectively Webster v. Doe, 486 U.S. 592 (1988); Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., 523 U.S. 75 (1998); and Board of Regents v. Southworth, 529 U.S. 217 (2000).
29. ^ D.C. Wonders When Rehnquist Will Go. FOXNews.com, July 10, 2005.
30. ^ [4]
31. ^ [5]
32. ^ [6]
33. ^ [7]

External links

“In Memoriam: William H. Rehnquist”, 119 Harvard Law Review 2005 (tributes to Rehnquist).

See also



Preceded by
John Marshall Harlan II
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
January 7, 1972September 26, 1986
Succeeded by
Antonin Scalia
Preceded by
Warren E. Burger
Chief Justice of the United States
September 26, 1986September 3, 2005
Succeeded by
John G. Roberts, Jr.

Judicial opinions of William Rehnquist
Supreme Court of the United States (January 2, 1972 – September 3, 2005)
(organized by term)
  • 1972
  • 1973
  • 1974
  • 1975
  • 1976
  • 1977
  • 1978
  • 1979
  • 1980
  • 1981
  • 1982
  • 1983
  • 1984
  • 1985
  • 1986
  • 1987
  • 1988
  • 1989
  • 1990
  • 1991
  • 1992
  • 1993
  • 1994
  • 1995
  • 1996
  • 1997
  • 1998
  • 1999
  • 2000
  • 2001

The Burger Court
Warren E. Burger (1969–1986)
1972–1975:Wm. O. Douglas | Wm. J. Brennan | P. Stewart | B. White | T. Marshall | H. Blackmun | L.F. Powell, Jr. | Wm. Rehnquist|
1975–1981:Wm. J. Brennan | P. Stewart | B. White | T. Marshall | H. Blackmun | L.F. Powell, Jr. | Wm. Rehnquist | J.P. Stevens|
1981–1986:Wm. J. Brennan | B. White | T. Marshall | H. Blackmun | L.F. Powell, Jr. | Wm. Rehnquist | J.P. Stevens | S.D. O'Connor|
The Rehnquist Court
William Hubbs Rehnquist (19862005)
1986–1987:Wm. J. Brennan | B. White | T. Marshall | H. Blackmun | L.F. Powell, Jr. | J.P. Stevens | S.D. O'Connor | A. Scalia|
1988–1990:Wm. J. Brennan | B. White | T. Marshall | H. Blackmun | J.P. Stevens | S.D. O'Connor | A. Scalia | A. Kennedy|
1990–1991:B. White | T. Marshall | H. Blackmun | J.P. Stevens | S.D. O'Connor | A. Scalia | A. Kennedy | D. Souter|
1991–1993:B. White | H. Blackmun | J.P. Stevens | S.D. O'Connor | A. Scalia | A. Kennedy | D. Souter | C. Thomas|
1993–1994:H. Blackmun | J.P. Stevens | S.D. O'Connor | A. Scalia | A. Kennedy | D. Souter | C. Thomas | R.B. Ginsburg|
1994–2005:J.P. Stevens | S.D. O'Connor | A. Scalia | A. Kennedy | D. Souter | C. Thomas | R.B. Ginsburg | S. Breyer|

NAMERehnquist, William Hubbs
SHORT DESCRIPTION16th Chief Justice of the United States
DATE OF BIRTHOctober 1, 1924
PLACE OF BIRTHMilwaukee, Wisconsin
DATE OF DEATHSeptember 3, 2005
PLACE OF DEATHArlington, Virginia
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