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Saturday, September 03, 2005

Death of Rehnquist

Chief Justice Rehnquist died tonight in his home in suburban Arlington. No matter his politics, I never enjoy seeing another human suffer or die. Rehnquist has done both, quite publicly, over the past year.

The death of Rehnquist, for tonight at least, brings two key points (and a sidenote) to my mind.

First, it's as fair of a time as any to consider his rather shameful life "accomplishments". As the only member of the current court to vote on Roe, Rehnquist dissented from the majority. In 2003 when the court preserved affirmative action in college admissions, Rehnquist dissented from the majority. When the Texas Sodomy statutes violated substantive due process, Rehnquist against stood on the wrong side of right.

In my last post, coincidentally, I noted that Chief Justice Rehnquist spent the early 60s harassing and disenfranchising black voters. Memos he wrote as a law clerk indicated his disapproval of Brown vs. Board of Education. He wrote memos openly supporting Plessy v. Ferguson, possibly the most racist, worst reasoned case in Supreme Court history. In 1999, Rehnquist led a group of lawyers and judges in the historically racist song "Dixie."

Second, a new far right bloc of Supreme Court justices will certainly serve for the 25-30 years. Bush's next appointee to the court likely will be a conservative in the Roberts/Scalia/Thomas mold, giving the extremists 4 votes on the court. Roe v. Wade does not immediately become threatened, but a young threesome of justices -- Roberts is 50, Thomas is 57 and the next justice will be of similar age -- can align with the 69-year old Scalia for the next several years. Should 1 of the liberals on the court retire or die in the next 3 years, Bush will transform the court into a hard right, activist court that will eliminate the right to privacy and extinguish any other progress. Considering that Justice Stevens is 86 and Justice Ginsburg fought cancer, the odds arehigh that Bush will replace one of the liberals. Should this happen, the Supreme Court will be destroyed for a generation. Even if it does not, the possibility of another Republican president in 2008 could have the same effect.

Third, Chief Justice Rehnquist showed off his pompous, or perhaps flamboyant, side in 1995 when he added four shiny gold stripes to each sleeve of his black robe in an apparent attempt to give him a "cool leader costume" distinguished from his colleagues. I mention this only because it is pointless, odd and amusing. Hey, you've got to have fun in life.

I hestitate to bash someone on the eve of their death, yet on the other hand my moral compass requires me to call out evil as I see it. Still, may William H. Rehnquist rest in piece.

Comments on ""


Anonymous Guess Who said ... (5:26 PM) : 

I disagree that Rehnquist was "evil." I think many of Rehnquist's decisions can be explained because he feels the legislature (who are elected officials) should make changes to the current law, as opposed to the whim of a select few judges to decide what law should govern the people. Therefore, as just one example, he may think the constitution doesn't protect sodomy as a fundamental right, which is not "evil" because it has nothing to do with his attitude towards any group of people.


Blogger Michael Alexander said ... (2:37 PM) : 

I think you bring up many interesting points. First, Rehnquist's racist past in supporting Plessy and intimidating black voters is pretty evil in and of itself.

More importantly, I think we have a disagreement over the role of courts in government. Most of this will need to wait for a longer post on another day,but the idea of narrowly interpreting the Constitution is really just a smokescreen for an activist conservative agenda. The Supreme Court's job is to determine if the legislature violates the Constitution. For instance, the Court never said sodomy is a fundamental right, that's just how Scalia spun it. The fundamental right in question there was about keeping government from infringing upon liberty that is outside the scope of law. Making laws about where you stick it in the bedroom, for example. Personally, I think it's evil to say that the government should tell me that if I put my thing in one hole, that's cool, but should it go in another hole, I'm breaking the law.

Let's not forget that progress such as desegregation would never have occurred but for so-called "activist judges." Often pure democracy doesn't result in what's right, that's why we've limited our democracy with an impartial judiciary.

Also, Rehnquist had no problem undermining the will of the people in the 2000 election, so I'm not so sure he doesn't like unelected judges deciding the law of the people.


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