AKA William Hubbs Rehnquist
Birthplace: Milwaukee, WI
Location of death: Arlington, VA
Cause of death: Cancer - other
Remains: Buried, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Party Affiliation: Republican
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: US Chief Justice, 1986-2005
Military service: US Army Air Corps (1943-46)
William Rehnquist grew up in a staunchly Republican household in Shorewood, a suburb north of Milwaukee. His parents often discussed politics at the dinner table, and voted for Republican standard bearers such as Alf Landon, Wendell Willkie, and Herbert Hoover. William served three years in the US Army Air Corps, rising to the rank of Sergeant. He then earned two degrees in Political Science and one in Government, before graduating at the top of his class at Stanford Law School. Sandra Day O'Connor was third in the same class, and long after both had been appointed to the Supreme Court it was revealed that they had briefly dated in school.
In 1952, Rehnquist clerked for Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, and wrote a memo arguing that Brown v. Board of Education, then pending before the court, should be decided against the plaintiffs, in favor of allowing so-called "separate but equal" schools for black and white students.
Rehnquist was a lawyer in private practice in Phoenix for 16 years, and became well-known among local Republicans for his outspoken opposition to school integration. He worked on the campaigns of Richard M. Nixon in 1960, Barry Goldwater in 1964, and Nixon again in 1968. When Nixon was elected, Rehnquist was hired to work in the White House Office of Legal Counsel. After two years answering Nixon's legal questions, he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court to replace the terminally ill John Marshall Harlan. It was Rehnquist's first and only judgeship.
As a Supreme Court Justice, Rehnquist's track record was dogmatically conservative. He was often in the minority in his early years, sometimes outvoted 8-1 by a liberal court. As the Supreme Court became more conservative, Rehnquist's opinions were often been decisive in 5-4 votes. In his better-known cases, he dissented in Roe v. Wade (1973), arguing that no "right of privacy" exists in the Constitution, and voted with the majority in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), finding that homosexuals have no Constitutional right to have consensual sex with each other in the privacy of their own homes. His dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985) argued that there is no Constitutional separation of church and state. Mapp v. Ohio (1961) was decided before Rehnquist was on the bench, and excludes evidence in criminal cases if the evidence was gathered illegally by police, but early in Rehnquist's tenure he urged his colleagues to overturn it.
When Chief Justice Warren Burger retired in 1986, President Ronald Reagan appointed Rehnquist as Chief Justice. In this position, Rehnquist had the Constitutional role of presiding over the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999. He had gold rings, derisively called "HMS Pinafore stripes", sewn onto his long black judicial robe for the occasion.
When Bush v. Gore changed from an election to a series of lawsuits in 2000, Rehnquist was instrumental in first delaying the Florida presidential recount of 2000, then ruling that time had run out. In stopping Florida officials from conducting a recount, Rehnquist's Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a recount would "irreparably damage" the legitimacy of Bush's "probable" presidency. Months later, unofficial recounts conducted by several different newspapers showed that under almost any standard proposed at the time, Al Gore had won more votes than George W. Bush in Florida.
In 2003, a Government Accounting Office (GAO) report concluded that Rehnquist's daughter Janet, while serving as Health and Human Services Inspector General, had "created an atmosphere of anxiety and distrust" within her office, and used her position to delay an audit of Florida's pension fund, because it could have embarrassed Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
In the months before his death in September 2005, Rehnquist underwent a tracheotomy, radiation treatment, and chemotherapy for thyroid cancer. During this time the justice continued work on the bench, keeping details regarding his health scarce. Visibly frail, Rehnquist officiated at Bush's second inauguration. His death soon after the retirement of justice O'Connor left the court with a rare double vacancy; his seat as Chief Justice was filled within the month by John G. Roberts, Jr., another first-time judge who had clerked for Rehnquist in 1980-81.
More than a year after his death, portions of Rehnquist's FBI files were released under the Freedom of Information Act, revealing details of his long-term addiction to the sedative Placidyl. He was taking three times the number of pills his physician prescribed, and when he was hospitalized and denied the drug in 1981, he went into withdrawal. He started hearing imagined voices plotting against him, had "bizarre ideas and outrageous thoughts", and grew paranoid about a non-existent "CIA plot against him."
The FBI files also showed that in 1986, at the request of Sen Strom Thurmond and with the approval of then-assistant attorney general John Bolton, the feds conducted secret interviews with people who were expected to testify against Rehnquist's promotion to Chief Justice. High-level FBI officials protested that this was tantamount to intimidating witnesses.
Father: William Benjamin Rehnquist (paper salesman)
Mother: Margery Peck (housewife)
Girlfriend: Sandra Day O'Connor (dated in law school)
Wife: Natalie Cornell ("Nan", m. 29-Aug-1953, d. 17-Oct-1991, one son, two daughters)
Son: James Rehnquist (attorney, b. 1955)
Daughter: Janet Rehnquist (former HHS Inspector General, b. 1957)
Daughter: Nancy (b. 1959)
High School: Shorewood High School, Shorewood, WI (1942)
University: BA and MA Political Science, Stanford University (1948)
University: MA Government, Harvard University (1950)
Law School: LLB, Stanford University (1952)
US Supreme Court Justice Chief Justice (1972-2005)
Office of Legal Counsel Assistant Attorney General (1969-71)
Law Clerk for Robert H. Jackson (1952-53)
Supreme Court Historical Society Honorary Chair
Alfalfa Club 1978
American Academy of Arts and Sciences 2005
American Bar Association
American College of Trial Lawyers Honorary Fellow
John Carroll Society Honorary Member
Phi Beta Kappa Society
Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Society
Order of the Coif
Risk Factors: Thyroid Cancer, Smoking
Is the subject of books:
Justice Rehnquist and the Constitution, 1989, BY: Sue Davis
Author of books:
The Supreme Court: How It Is, How It Was (1987)
Grand Inquests: The Historic Impeachments of Justice Samuel Chase and President Andrew Johnson (1992)
All the Laws But One: Civil Liberties in Wartime (2000)
Centennial Crisis: The Disputed Election of 1876 (2004, history, a lightweight treatment)
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