- Category : Legal
- Type : PE
- Profile : 5/1 - Heretical / Investigator
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Upheaval 2
American jurist and the 16th Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, a position he held from 1986 until his death on September 3, 2005. An imposing figure, Rehnquist presided over several important cases including the 1992 challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1999 impeachment trial of American President William Jefferson Clinton, and the controversial presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000.
Despite his right-wing conservative background, Rehnquist was considered well qualified to preside over Clinton’s impeachment trial. A few years prior, Rehnquist had written a scholarly history on the 1868 impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson and he fully understood the seriousness of the proceedings. A man of great discretion professionally and personally, he did not openly discuss his opinion on the matter, though many believe that the issue caused him conflict. As Chief Justice, Rehnquist was known for encouraging his colleagues to be efficient in their work, keeping meetings on-time and on-subject, and writing sometimes short but to-the-point opinions.
The son of a wholesale paper industry broker and a college educated mother who was fluent in several languages, Rehnquist was an intellectually precocious boy. "Bill got his smarts from his mom and his sense of humor from his dad," said a long-term friend. After high school, he entered college for a few months but left to enlist in the Army Air Corps. In 1946, on the G.I. bill, he went to Stanford University and graduated in 1948 as a member of Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in political science. He earned a second master’s degree at Harvard University and then returned to Stanford for his law degree. He graduated first in his law class in 1952, with his future Supreme Court bench-mate Sandra Day O’Connor graduating third. For the next 18 months he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson where, through the cases that came up, Rehnquist’s conservative views were more fully formulated. In 1959, Rehnquist started private practice with a partner in Phoenix, Arizona, doing mostly real estate, wills and contracts, joking that "a fair amount of our time was devoted to counting cracks in the office ceiling." It was during this period that he became friendly with the state’s Republican leaders.
A decade later he took a job as an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department. Three years after that, Richard Nixon nominated him to the Supreme Court despite the fact that he had never served as a judge. Rehnquist was 47 at the time of his swearing-in ceremony on January 7, 1972. In 1986 President Reagan named him Chief Justice, and Rehnquist assumed the mantle on September 26 that year. In his 33 years on the bench he saw a swing in political views and ideologies. When he joined the Bench as an Associate Justice in 1972, his was usually the sole conservative vote. With the ascension of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court in 1991, Rehnquist found himself presiding over a working majority
Though he adhered to his conservative agenda at the court, he showed little trepidation about bending tradition as he saw fit. An intellectual giant, his legal brilliance was well-respected and his remarkable memory was frequently demonstrated. For all the gravity that he brought to the office, the jurist was known behind-the-scenes for his informal manner and fun-loving ways. He was a serious poker player and enjoyed gambling, even wagering on how much snow might fall in a given place. He often led his law clerks in sing-alongs and was known to wear cowboy boots under his robes. Once, before could identify Rehnquist by sight, President Nixon spotted a 6’3” man in a psychedelic tie and a bright pink shirt and asked John Dean “Who the hell is that clown?” Nixon later nominated “that clown” to the bench. In 1995, Rehnquist added his signature four gold stripes to each sleeve of his judicial robe in imitation of the costume worn by the Lord Chancellor in a recent local production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta, Iolanthe. And after Clinton’s impeachment trial, when a journalist asked Rehnquist what role he had played in the President’s acquittal, the jurist quoted from the same operetta: “I did nothing in particular and did it very well.”
Rehnquist enjoyed bridge, oil-painting, choral singing, stamp-collecting, swimming, tennis and theater. He wrote books on Supreme Court history and at least one unpublished mystery, quipping “It’s very nice to be able to write something you don’t have to get four other people to agree with before it can become authoritative.” In 1953 he married former CIA employee Nan Cornell and they had three children, James, 43, a lawyer; Janet, 40, a federal prosecutor; and Nancy, 39. The Rehnquists were an uncommonly devoted couple, and, after 38 years of marriage, he was devastated when Nan died of cancer in 1991.
In the autumn of 2004, the Supreme Court Chief Justice was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and admitted to Maryland’s Bethesda Naval Hospital on October 22, 2004. He underwent a tracheotomy the following day. The 80-year-old jurist was released from the hospital on October 29 to recuperate at home. His hopes of resuming his duties within the week were dashed a few days later when he disclosed that he was beginning treatment of radiation and chemotheraphy.
At George Bush's second inauguration ceremony in January 2005, a frail-looking Rehnquist made a brief appearance to swear in the President. He returned to work on March 21, 2005 and did as much as he could in his weakened state, speaking through his tracheotomy tube and working mostly from his home. On Saturday evening, September 3, 2005, he died at his Arlington, VA home with his three children at his side. He was a month shy of his 81st birthday.