Synopses & Reviews
As a young lawyer practicing in Arizona, far from the political center of the country, William Hubbs Rehnquist’s iconoclasm made him a darling of Goldwater Republicans. He was brash and articulate. Although he was unquestionably ambitious and extraordinarily self-confident, his journey to Washington required a mixture of good-old-boy connections and rank good fortune. An outsider and often lone dissenter on his arrival, Rehnquist outlasted the liberal vestiges of the Warren Court and the collegiate conservatism of the Burger Court, until in 1986 he became the most overtly political conservative to sit as chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Over that time Rehnquist’s thinking pointedly did not––indeed, could not––evolve. Dogma trumped leadership. So, despite his intellectual gifts, Rehnquist left no body of law or opinions that define his tenure as chief justice or even seem likely to endure. Instead, Rehnquist bestowed a different legacy: he made it respectable to be an expedient conservative on the Court.
The Supreme Court now is as deeply divided politically as the executive and legislative branches of our government, and for this Rehnquist must receive the credit or the blame. His successor as chief justice, John Roberts, is his natural heir. Under Roberts, who clerked for Rehnquist, the Court remains unrecognizable as an agent of social balance. Gone are the majorities that expanded the Bill of Rights.
The Rehnquist Court, which lasted almost twenty years, was molded in his image. In thirty-three years on the Supreme Court, from 1972 until his death in 2005 at age 80, Rehnquist was at the center of the Court’s dramatic political transformation. He was a partisan, waging a quiet, constant battle to imbue the Court with a deep conservatism favoring government power over individual rights.
The story of how and why Rehnquist rose to power is as compelling as it is improbable. Rehnquist left behind no memoir, and there has never been a substantial biography of him: Rehnquist was an uncooperative subject, and during his lifetime he made an effort to ensure that journalists would have scant material to work with. John A. Jenkins has produced the first full biography of Rehnquist, exploring the roots of his political and judicial convictions and showing how a brilliantly instinctive jurist, who began his career on the Court believing he would only ever be an isolated voice of right-wing objection, created the ethos of the modern Supreme Court.
"A. Jenkins, editor of CQ Press and a veteran legal journalist, traces the life of William Rehnquist (1924 2005), who was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 by President Nixon and became chief justice in 1986. As Jenkins underscores, Rehnquist's years as chief justice were characterized by a markedly conservative shift in Supreme Court jurisprudence. Jenkins takes the view that Rehnquist was an ideologue rather than a legal scholar and theorist, it his 'expedient and unyielding conservatism' most apparent in his view that federalism, the balance between the states and the federal government, had 'revolutionary potential' as potential the authorhe says, has been realized in chief justice Roberts's court. And while Jenkins is an informed and balanced commentator on the politics surrounding presidential appointments to the Court, Rehnquist's legal legacy, and relationships among the justices, he is equally interested in Rehnquist the man his character, his predilections, his demons. Jenkins offers a mixed but often unflattering view of Rehnquist. There are also revelations for those who have not been Court cognoscenti, foremost among them Rehnquist's long battle with an addiction to prescription pain-killers. In an accessible and satisfying biography, Jenkins finds the right balance between the law and the man, the legal and the human. Agemt: Jane Dystel, Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The most influential justice in recent history gains that accolade not from his individual opinions, many of which were minority ones, but because his entire judicial effort succeeded in moving the Supreme Court to the right. The current court is unimaginable without the helmsmanship of William Hubbs Rehnquist.
Rehnquist came of age as a lawyer in the Nixon White House, where Henry Kissinger and H.R. Haldeman considered his candidacy for the Court like this: Kissinger: "Rehnquist is pretty far right, isn't he?" Haldeman responded, "Oh, Christ! He's way to the right of Buchanan", referring to then-presidential advisor Patrick Buchanan.
He was. Rehnquist was a lifelong conservative with a well concealed iconoclastic streak, which is how he came to be arrested for camping out on courtroom lawns, long before the idea of Occupy protesting was commonplace. As a 28-year-old clerk to Robert Jackson, Rehnquist wrote a memo to Justice Jackson in 1952 as the justices were considering Brown Vs Board of Education declaring that separate but equal schools for whites and blacks, still legal then, are right and should be affirmed.” He never wavered in his conservatism, and in particularly in his enmity for Ted Kennedy. When the Roe v Wade decision was handed down in early 1973, Rehnquist was one of two dissenters, with Justice Byron R. White. But Rehnquist made steady inroads against Roe, eventually gaining, in 1989 and thereafter, decisions of the Court that make abortions more difficult to get.
Rehnquist survived a bruising confirmation battle as chief justice, with 33 senators voting against him a record for a chief justice. He presided over two epic public showpieces -- the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton and the resolution of Gore v Bush which settled the 2000 Presidential Election. Extraordinarily there has never been until now a book to consider fully the life and times of Justice Rehnquist, who was famously closed off to the media. In his life he gave one interview, to a young journalist on the New York Times Sunday Magazine: John A. Jenkins.
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The first full biography of William Rehnquist— the iconoclastic, influential chief justice who shaped the current court and moved it decisively to the right
William Rehnquist’s life story is profoundly significant yet largely unknown, which is how he wanted it. Rehnquist’s place on the Court was at once an accident of history and an inevitable result of it—something that Rehnquist had secretly coveted since law school, and yet could never have connived to obtain. His nomination in 1971 was one of the modern political era’s most unlikely appointments.
As a justice and later as leader of the Court, he presided over the some of the century’s most dramatic decisions, including the impeachment of President Clinton and the resolution of Gore v Bush. In thirty-three years on the Supreme Court (nineteen as chief justice)—from 1972 until his death at age 81 in 2005—Rehnquist was on a mission, waging a quiet, constant battle to imbue the Court with a deep conservatism favoring government power over individual rights. His story is important because it teaches us why the Court matters, and how and why our least transparent, least understood branch of government has been politicized.
About the Author
John A. Jenkins is President and Publisher of CQ Press in Washington, D.C. As a journalist and author, Jenkinss work appeared in major magazines in the U.S. and abroad, including The New York Times Magazine, where he was a regular contributor from 1983 through 1987; GQ; The Washington Monthly; and The American Lawyer. He is a four-time recipient of the American Bar Associations Gavel Award Certificate of Merit, the highest award in legal journalism, for his coverage of law and the courts. His historic article in The New York Times Magazine, A Candid Talk with Justice Blackmun,” won the American Bar Association award. Jenkinss cover story in The Times Magazine, entitled The Partisan,” revealed new information about Rehnquists conservative past and brought unwelcome attention to the justice, who vowed never again to cooperate in such an endeavor. Jenkins is also the author of two popular books about lawyers.