Academic journal article Texas Review of Law & Politics

A Remarkable Man

Academic journal article Texas Review of Law & Politics

A Remarkable Man

Article excerpt

I. THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS ON CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAM H. REHNQUIST

During my tenure as Solicitor General, I made sure to go to many arguments that the Government was participating in during those three-and-a-half years. Because other arguments took place on those same days, I was able to observe almost all of them. I always had deep affection and respect for the Supreme Court, the Justices of the Supreme Court, and the institution of the Supreme Court. That experience of watching it closely intensified that degree of respect.

In addition to Chief Justice Rehnquist, we have a Court of Justices who are extraordinarily well qualified, extremely intelligent, and extraordinarily and without exception very well prepared for oral argument. Their questions come immediately and they are very good, penetrating questions. As much as you prepare, they always go to the very weakest portions of the case, no matter which side you are on. Part of that discipline was attributable to Chief Justice Rehnquist.

A word or two about Chief Justices: We are now at the seventeenth Chief Justice of the United States. Think about that. We have had forty-three Presidents, but we have only had seventeen Chief Justices in the history of our country. The last three Chief Justices, before Chief Justice Roberts, served from the very beginning of the Eisenhower Administration.1 That is ten presidencies and three Chief Justiceships. The Justices and the Chief Justices of the United States have enormous influence on our life, our culture, our law, the structure of our government, the things that we are free to do, and the things that we allow the government to restrict us in doing.

Chief Justice Rehnquist served on the Court for almost thirtyfour years; fifteen as Associate Justice and nineteen as Chief Justice2 That is a remarkable tenure. He served longer as Chief Justice than all but two of the Chief Justices.

He brought a Midwestern discipline to the Court, but he did it in such a congenial way that the other eight Justices of the Court on which he was Chief Justice, no matter how much they disagreed at the end of the day and no matter how sharp their differences in the opinions that they wrote, were always a collegial and respectful group. I have been told by several of the Justices individually about their relationships, how well they get along, and how much they respect one another. They almost invariably attribute that in large part to the kind of Chief Justice that Chief Justice Rehnquist was.

Justice Ginsburg has said publicly that Chief Justice Rehnquist is the best boss she ever had.3 Such praise comes from someone from the opposite end of the conservative-liberal spectrum, but that same sentiment was reflected in the other Justices that I have spoken to.

The Midwestern discipline was an important part of Chief Justice Rehnquist. The Court always started on time. It was there whether there was a snowstorm or not. During the anthrax scare in Washington, D.C., the Court went on despite concern about whether the Supreme Court itself had been affected by anthrax through the mail.4 The Court moved to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and went on just as if nothing had happened.5 There was nothing that was going to stop the Court from operating.

As many have noted before, you had to stop when that red light went on. I saw an argument once where Professor Tribe, a highly respected constitutional lawyer and a very experienced advocate, was arguing a case, and he was representing the petitioner. As a petitioner, if you intend to reserve some time for rebuttal it is up to you to finish arguing and still have some time left for your rebuttal. As Professor Tribe went on with his argument, the white light went on indicating he had five minutes left, and he kept talking and answering questions. Finally, the red light went on, and the Chief Justice said, "Mr. Tribe, your time has expired. …

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