Reagan's Supreme Court Nominations / Conservative Rehnquist Pens Polished Opinions Respected by Opponents

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON - Justice William H. Rehnquist, nominated Tuesday to be chief justice of the United States by President Reagan, is a conservative jurist whose polished opinions have won grudging respect even from those who oppose his views.

Rehnquist, 61 years old, was named to the court by President Nixon in 1971 after serving for two years in the Justice Department as head of the Office of Legal Counsel. As one of the government's chief legal strategists, he articulated administration's policies on such issues as obscenity, wiretapping and defendants' rights.

In an interview last year with The New York Times Magazine, he said that when he was appointed, he saw himself as a counterweight to the direction taken by the court under Chief Justice Earl Warren.

""I felt that at the time I came on the court, the boat was kind of keeling over in one direction,'' he said. ""Interpreting my oath as I saw it, I felt that my job was, where those sort of situations arose, to kind of lean the other way.''

In his early days, he wrote stinging one-man dissents that attacked the court's positions on such issues as women's rights and school desegregation.

More recently, with the appointment by President Reagan of Sandra Day O'Connor, his classmate at Stanford Law School, and shifts in the thinking of other colleagues, Rehnquist has found himself increasingly in the majority.

The most frequent complaint about Rehnquist voiced by academic critics is that his accomplished writing style obscures disingenuous arguments and the twisting of facts to fit his viewpoint.

In his interview last year, Rehnquist said such assertions were not ""well founded.'' He said it was the academics who were being disingenuous, noting that a 1972 poll showed 85 percent of law school faculty members favored George McGovern, the Democratic presidential candidate.

""You have to say, based on the law of averages, the author is going to start with a predisposition against a lot of my ideas,'' he said. …