The Rehnquist Court and the Constitution

The Rehnquist Court and the Constitution

The Rehnquist Court and the Constitution

The Rehnquist Court and the Constitution

Synopsis

In The Rehnquist Court and the Constitution, Tinsley Yarbrough provides a comprehensive look at today's Supreme Court Justices and their record--a study all the more valuable for the Court's mixed decisions and hard-to-categorize course. An accomplished biographer, Yarbrough offers incisive portraits of the nine who now sit on the high bench, and tellingly reviews their nomination hearings. He also explores the workings of the Court, ranging from the selection and role of the clerks to the work load (including the end-of-term "June crunch") and assignment of opinions. But the heart of the book is a systematic exploration of the Court's record in such fields as government power, economic regulation, and criminal justice. In decision after decision, the author discusses the various justices' opinions, arguments, and legal theories; he also offers his own analysis (including a sharp critique of the decision to allow the Paula Jones lawsuit to move forward). Like many writers on the Rehnquist Court, Yarbrough finds a general continuity with the past, shaded by a conservative outlook (especially in matters of criminal justice and affirmative action), but he identifies a significant departure in its rulings on economic regulation. Since 1937, he writes, the Supreme Court had generally adopted an expansive view of federal power over economic matters; the Rehnquist Court has reversed that trend. The Rehnquist Court has not launched an all-out assault on the Warren Court's precedents, as many conservatives hoped, but as Yarbrough shows it has embarked on important new departures. Thoughtful, wide-ranging, intelligently written, this book will stand as the finest study of the Rehnquist Court for years to come.

Excerpt

By all accounts, William Rehnquist was to be a more effective chief justice, especially in terms of his relations with his colleagues, than his predecessor. Warren Earl Burger had certainly looked the part, and his opinions were entirely workmanlike, readable efforts. But a preoccupation with Court pomp and his early grounds beautification campaign had hardly enhanced his image with Court veterans, including Justice Black, who once described the then new chief as "a good man--with flowers. No help either was Burger's irascible, overbearing personality--a manner reflected perhaps in his unsuccessful attempt at the beginning of his tenure to control the assignment of the Court's opinion not only when he was in the majority, consistent with long tradition, but even when he was in dissent in a case. As a result, most if not all their colleagues probably welcomed Burger's departure and the elevation of Rehnquist, who could be pompous and clearly was the justice most out of step with decisional trends on the Burger Court, but also was considered a diplomatic, considerate, generally unflappable colleague--even if some privately attributed his calm manner to the painkilling medications that had concerned senators who opposed his confirmation.

If their colleagues needed any reminder of the contrasts between the irascible Burger and the unflappable Rehnquist, moreover, they got it shortly after the new chief had taken his seat. Chief Justice Burger had retired primarily, he said, to devote his full attention to his activities as head of the commission planning the celebration of the Constitution's bicentennial. in a memorandum to the justices, Burger complained about a "fast-talk promoter" on Philadelphia's bicentennial committee who had recently announced to the press that the Court would sit in Philadelphia the fol-

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