Sunday, September 04, 2005

William Rehnquist (1924-2005)

Chief Justice William Rehnquist has died at the age of 80. Below are excerpts from an interview I conducted in July with Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett:

JT: It seems all but inevitable that Chief Justice Rehnquist will resign very soon. Much will be written about him in the days ahead, analyzing his legacy on the court. But you were in a unique position to know him personally and to work for him professionally, clerking for him from 1996-1997. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience? What is the Chief Justice like as a person?

RG: Working for the Chief Justice was a wonderful experience. He is a top-shelf lawyer, an excellent judge, a gifted administrator, and a decent and down-to-earth person. It’s not really possible, in a few sentences, to explain what he’s like “as a person,” and I don’t imagine that I know him any better than hundreds of others who’ve worked with him over the years. For me, what sticks in my memory about the Chief is his even keel, his complete lack of snobbery or pretension, his balanced and “long view” attitude toward the Court’s work and his own decisions, and the care he took to teach, and not merely to supervise and command, his law clerks. I have a great job, and I owe a great deal of my professional happiness to the Chief.

JT: How do you think history will judge the Chief Justice?

RG: I think he will be viewed as one of the great Chief Justices: He has run the Court well and efficiently, and enjoys the respect and affection of all the Justices with whom he has worked. He has been an effective administrator of the Judicial Branch generally, and of the Judicial Conference. I think he has been an effective advocate for the judiciary, and for the rule of law, in Congress and in the public square. He’s done a valuable service to the education of Americans generally about the Constitution, and our history, through his popular history books (All the Laws But One, Centennial Crisis, etc.). In terms of the Court’s doctrine, he not only contributed to, and presided over, important developments in criminal procedure and habeas corpus, religious freedom, federalism, state action, and federal Indian law, he also—more generally—helped to fundamentally transform our conversations about the Constitution, by re-introducing important premises about enumerated powers, state sovereignty, and originalism that had been forgotten, or pushed to the margins, during the 1960s.