Rehnquist death leaves second vacancy
Liberals protested in 1986 when President Ronald Reagan nominated Rehnquist to replace Warren Burger as chief justice. But he was confirmed and as more conservative judges joined the high courtincluding Scalia, a Reagan appointeeRehnquist became part of a majority that shared his views on issues such as expanding states' rights, allowing more government aid to religious schools and restricting habeas corpus, the procedure to determine the legality of an individual's custody. Decisions on habeas corpus during his tenure effectively limited the appeals of prisoners on death row and dramatically accelerated executions.
"He is the architect of some important work," says A.E. Dick Howard, University of Virginia law professor.
A Lutheran of Swedish descent, Rehnquist's conservative values can be traced to his Republican upbringing in a suburb of Milwaukee, where his family's political heroes were GOP stalwarts Alf Landon, Wendell Wilkie and Herbert Hoover. In an oft-told tale, a grade-school teacher reportedly asked young Rehnquist what he wanted to do when he grew up, and he is said to have answered: "I'm going to change the government."
His path toward that goal took him to the Army Air Corps during World War II, and then to college on the GI Bill. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in political science at Stanford University, received a second master's degree in government from Harvard, and in 1952 graduated first in his class at Stanford Law School. His classmate, future Justice O'Connor, ranked third. Rehnquist clerked for Justice Robert Jackson for a year, and after marrying his college sweetheart and looking for a warm, dry place to live, accepted a job with a law firm in Phoenix.
In Arizona he became a GOP party official and outspoken opponent of initiatives such as busing to achieve school integration. He campaigned twice for Nixon, in 1960 and 1968, and for Barry Goldwater in 1964. He was hired to work in the White House Office of Legal Counsel after Nixon was elected, and ascended to the high court with no previous judicial experience.
Rehnquist's philosophy of limited federal government power and greater states' rights grew from his reading of history, which led him to conclude that the nation's founders envisioned a balance of power between federal and state goverments. "He certainly recognized the need for a strong national government and the events in our history where such a strong government has served us well," says James Duff, a lawyer who was Rehnquist's administrative assistant from 1996 to 2000. "But he also recognized that the national powers granted in the Constitution are not unlimited."
In 1976, Rehnquist wrote the majority opinion in an important early case, striking down the federal statute permitting Congress to regulate minimum wage and overtime pay of state employees. "We have repeatedly recognized," he wrote, "that there are attributes of sovereignty attaching to every state government which may not be impaired by Congress . . . "
Critics of Rehnquist and the court's decision in 2000 to intervene in the presidential voting dispute in Florida harkened back to that opinion in arguing that the chief and other conservative justices improperly politicized the court by injecting themselves into the state vote-counting imbroglio, ultimately deciding the outcome of a presidential election.