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RIP Justice Rehnquist

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Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist This just in: US Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist is dead at the age of 80.

Rehnquist died this evening at his home in Virginia surrounded by his family. He had been suffering from thyroid cancer, which had been diagnosed last October.

After earning his law degree at Stanford University in 1950, the Milwaukee native worked as a Republican Party official who opposed school integration and served in the administration of President Richard Nixon as deputy attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. In 1972, he was confirmed as a Supreme Court justice.

More from Rehnquist’s biography on Oyez.org:

In his early days on the Court, Rehnquist was outspoken as the Court’s lone dissenter despite the presence of three other Republican appointees. He battled against the expansion of federal powers and advocated a strong vision of state’s rights. Rehnquist also differed from the majority’s view that the Fourteenth Amendment applied to non-racial issues such as the rights of women, children, and immigrants. Although his dissents at the time influenced very little of the Court’s conclusions, Rehnquist provided the future Court many valuable ideas which inspired the later conservative shift. Rehnquist’s views led him to oppose the majority in several important decisions. In his opinion, the liberal faction of the Court too often tried to shape public policy by expanding the scope of the law beyond its original meaning.

By 1986, Rehnquist held significant persuasive power. After Chief Justice Burger retired from the Court, President Reagan nominated Rehnquist to replace him. Liberals howled in protest. Many painted Rehnquist as a racist and conservative extremist. Opponents alleged racist behavior (an old charge) when Rehnquist was a Republican official in Phoenix. Others charged that he had mishandled a family trust. In the end, however, these accusations remained unproved and the Senate confirmed Rehnquist by a solid majority.

As chief justice, Rehnquist won the respect of his colleagues through his efficient management of court affairs. Rehnquist has also revealed a moderation in his views by voting with liberals to protect gay rights and free speech.

In addition, Rehnquist voted to give George Bush the presidency in the still-disputed election of 2000. He opposed the successful Supreme Court reversal of Colorado’s anti-GLBT Amendment 2, and when the court put an end to unjust sodomy laws throughout the land in Lawrence v. Texas, Rehnquist dissented. He was also one of the two justices who voted against Roe v. Wade, the controversial ruling that overturned state laws banning or restricting abortion and ensured women’s reproductive rights under law.

Only last month, shortly after the announcement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s resignation, Rehnquist announced that he would not step down from his post. He continued to serve despite the difficulty he faced in coping with the effects of the cancer.

The news is sure to spur much apprehension over who will take his seat and over the new makeup of the nation’s highest court. In the meantime, however, the nation surely will mourn the loss of a jurist whose effect on US law and jurisprudence, for good and ill, has been monumental.

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About NR Davis

  • http://freewayjam.blogspot.com uao

    Oh boy. This was no surprise, but now there’ll be two up for confirmation at the same time.

    An ‘interesting’ year grows even more interesting…

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com/ Silas Kain

    God save these United States. Get ready for the roller coaster ride, America. All we need now is one more Hurricane over Category 3 hitting the Southeast.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Don’t forget that earthquake.

    “Stop the World, I Want To Get Off” comes to mind.

    How about that mandatory “retire at 75″ idea? Or 70?

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com/ Silas Kain

    Temple, can things get any worse for us? I think I’m gonna pick up the Good Book and see what Revelations says about this. At the rate we’re going, Christ’s cloud should be landing at LaGuardia by Thursday.

  • http://freewayjam.blogspot.com uao

    Bet those pesky terrorists are feeling newly emboldened this week, too.

  • http://gratefuldread.net Natalie Davis

    I actually said to my mother today that armageddon must be under way. It was intended as a joke. It’s less funny now.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Yes they could.

    But the country is in a chaotic wonder and if it doesn’t stop spinning we’re all going to fall down and puke.

    I’m lucky enough not be in the thick of the mess. My heart hurts and I feel a little helpless right now.

    … and that was before the Tequila and Coke

  • http://gratefuldread.net Natalie Davis

    I am not a drinker myself, but it’s a good thing there is no alcohol in the house because this would surely be a night for imbibing. It’s terrifying to think what will be next.

  • http://leoniceno.journalspace.com Leoniceno

    Is Rehnquist’s death really that big of a shock, that big of a catastrophe? All the pundits have been confidently predicting it for months! This talk about ‘armageddon’ is over-blown. It’s not Armaggedon till it’s Jeb Bush vs. Hillary Clinton in a presidential race.

  • http://gratefuldread.net Natalie Davis

    Speak for yourself. This news is not shocking, but many of us are terrified about what the future holds. And my comment to my mother, made before Rehnquist’s death, had to do with catastrophes in general. It seems to me that they are coming at us fast and furious.

  • Roy Boy

    Good Riddance. Rehnquist was personally responsible for slowing down and rolling back the rights for homosexuals across the country for 50 years. If we can stall the replacement, or impeach Bush soon, maybe we can get someone in the Supreme Court to uphold my right to get married.

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com/ Silas Kain

    And Hurricane Maria is forming in the Atlantic with “no chance” of hitting the U.S. Betcha there are a lot of nuns who think the Blessed Virgin Maria is headed straight for us. So, do I attend Mass in a Catholic Church or continue going to the Unitarian one? Time to pay some premiums on the afterlife insurance policy.

  • http://gratefuldread.net Natalie Davis

    Wow, Mr. Roy Boy. His body probably isn’t cold yet.

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    “If we can stall the replacement, or impeach Bush soon, maybe we can get someone in the Supreme Court to uphold my right to get married.”

    Yeah, because President Cheney would appoint a liberal to the Court…

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Silas, there are two more storms forming up in the Atlantic right now.

    Dave

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com DrPat

    What happened to the “L” storm? Would it be Lucas? Ludwig? Larry? Gotta be a guy-name this time ’round, right?

    Laurence? Leonard? Lester?

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    I dunno, but Maria is supposed to head NE and die in the Atlantic…

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com/ Silas Kain

    You have the right to get married in Canada or Massachusetts, Roy Boy. And you can have a right to civil union in Vermont. It may take another 30 years but same sex couples will have the right to marry across America someday. In my estimation there are many more important things to worry about right now like electing government officials who represent the interests of the people rather than the moneychangers. Today, more than ever before, I wish Peter Jennings were alive. This is the kind of history that would have gotten his creative juices flowing.

  • Patriot

    Let’s hope we don’t get a jackass who thinks that a person’s home can be taken by local government and given to commercial developers.

    Let’s hope we don’t get a jackass who doesn’t know pornography when he/she sees it.

    Let’s hope we don’t get a jackass who thinks that polygamist marriages are a constitutional right after sanctioning homosexual marriage.

    Let’s hope we don’t get a jackass who thinks that the purpose of the Supreme Court is to replace the Congress in correcting social problems.

    And on an on…

  • scotty

    “L”ucifer should have been on the list this year…

  • http://freewayjam.blogspot.com uao

    Don’t forget; Rehnquist was attacked as a right-wing reactionary when he was nominated; however, it was the early 70’s. Thirty years on, he was usually counted on for an inch-left-of-center vote.

    As was O’Connor.

    And with a record number of 5-4 votes in recent years, this proves to be a remarkably watershed moment, with 2 justices missing, in American history. Moments after the worst disaster in American history.

    Concurrently with the fuzziest and most unclear war in America’s history.

    During a moment of fiscal weakness unprecidented in American history.

    During an all-time lowpoint in sympathy, empathy, and continued wishes of existence from the outside worlds.

    Wasn’t it an Arabic salutation that went May you live in interesting times? Or was it Chinese?

    Interesting times, fellow Americans.

  • http://none.com Bob A. Booey

    Huh?

    Rehnquist was never a left-of-center vote. He was always reliably conservative and never regarded as a swing vote, with a few rare exceptions.

    That is all.

  • http://freewayjam.blogspot.com uao

    I meant in comparison to America, circa 1973. How he really could be considered centrist is simply an example of how the right-wing apocalyptic vision that this nation is heading hellbent in a leftwing direction is pure delusion.

    That is all (I meant)

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