William Rehnquist

From Academic Kids

William H. Rehnquist has served as the  since 1986.
William H. Rehnquist has served as the Chief Justice of the United States since 1986.

Chief Justice William Hubbs Rehnquist (born October 1, 1924) is an American jurist and former law clerk and Assistant Attorney General. He has been a member of the Supreme Court of the United States since 1972 and has served as the 16th Chief Justice of the United States since he was elevated from associate justice by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. He is the longest serving Chief Justice since Melville Fuller died in office in 1910.


Early life

Rehnquist was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After finishing high school, he attended Kenyon College for one year before entering 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 received 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 law clerk for Justice Robert H. Jackson during the Court's 19511952 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 the 1973 case Roe v. Wade), 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 from 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.

Rehnquist is only the second Chief Justice of the U.S. (after Salmon Portland Chase) to preside over a presidential impeachment, doing so in 1999 in the trial of President Bill Clinton.

Rehnquist has been mentioned as a possibility for the source known as Deep Throat during the 1970s Watergate scandal. In February 2005, it was revealed that Deep Throat was gravely ill, and due to Rehnquist's advanced form of thyroid cancer, there has been increasing speculation regarding the validity of the argument that Rehnquist was indeed Deep Throat. On May 31, 2005, Bob Woodward confirmed that Deep Throat was W. Mark Felt.

Family life

  • Rehnquist often spends summers in Vermont.

Health problems

In February 1977, Rehnquist injured his back severely enough to be hospitalized for a week and placed in traction. He then suffered from chronic lower back pain. In late 1981, Supreme Court observers noted that his speech was slurred and sometimes not understandable. On December 27, 1981 he entered George Washington University Hospital for treatment of side effects, including slurred speech, caused by a drug he was taking to relieve back pain. The drug was reported to be the prescription sedative Placidyl, which can be addictive.

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 before the announcement. 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 potential replacements.

Because of his health problems, doubts were raised about whether he would be able to administer the oath of office to President Bush at his inaugural on January 20, 2005. Rehnquist did swear in Bush at the inaugural, despite looking quite frail and leaving shortly after the oath 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 made. ([1] (http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=10000103&sid=aCK9SlWePcMs&refer=us)) On May 23, 2005 Rehnquist briefly visited the Capitol Medical Department, furthering speculation that he would retire by the end of the term.


Molotsky, Irvin. "Doctor Says Pain Drug Caused Justice Rehnquist to Slur His Speech." The New York Times, January 2, 1982. p. 9.

External links


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, 1986 – present (a)
Succeeded by:

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