04. September 2005 · Comments Off on Memories Of The Rehnquist Court · Categories: General

Earlier today, I was watching Justice William Rehnquist in a 2001 interview on C-SPAN, concerning his book The Supreme Court. This primarily served to re-enforce my long-standing impression of him as a profoundly decent, and personable man – the type of man anyone would welcome as a dinner guest, or cherish as a good friend.

This, coupled with the courage and wherewithal he demonstrated in his ultimately futile battle with thyroid cancer, also makes him an ideal role-model for any teen emerging upon the world.

But the interview has also set me about reflection upon Rehnquist’s legacy. I’ve since found myself searching my own memories, as well as reading the eulogies of others. Among those memories, perhaps the most profound are the words of the pundits; circa 1986, who thought that Rehnquist taking the helm, and Scalia stepping up, would dramatically “turn” The Court, radically undoing a tradition of liberal activism in both The (particularly Warren) Court, and Congress, which had only grown and festered over the past half-century. But, like O’Connor before him, he really fooled ’em.

No, as Chief, rather than being a conservative firebrand, Rehnquist has been a model of judicial moderation. Rather then attempting to crack the stone, he has gently chipped away at the edges of the liberal monolith. The Rehnquist Court, contrary to being one of stasis as I (having previously commented as such at The Volokh Conspiracy), and other libertarians, had feared, or revolution, as the authoritarian conservatives might have hoped, has been one of gentle evolution, and narrowly, carefully, crafted decisions.

And, reflecting upon it all, and recognizing the context of his capacity, America is a MUCH better place than it was in the early-‘eighties. Our next Chief Justice has some big shoes to fill.

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