Skip to comments.Chief Justice Rehnquist
Posted on 09/07/2005 9:15:21 AM PDT by Graybeard58
From the lonely dissenter's vantage point in the 7-2 Roe vs. Wade juggernaut 32 years ago, William Rehnquist saw a future where such decisions, reviled even by many on the left for their lack of foundation in constitutional law, would no longer emanate from the Supreme Court chambers. He was even a conservative revolutionary, say some of the pundits who used his death Saturday as a vehicle to chronicle his long career on the bench.
In truth, there was no revolution. Where Chief Justice Rehnquist won, he prevailed in increments. On the larger issues that were important to him, including abortion on demand and Miranda rights for criminal defendants, he failed to generate much movement, and in some cases even repositioned himself. Presented with an opportunity in 2000 to overrule the Miranda law, which he had opposed since the 1960s, he placed three decades of law-enforcement tradition above the Constitution he believed did not require an oral enumeration of rights to criminal suspects.
The public will remember Chief Justice Rehnquist for two occasions where he was in the forefront: the 1998 impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton, during which he wore a black robe oddly decorated with gold stripes but otherwise comported himself with dignity; and the 2000 decision ending the recounting of Florida votes in the presidential election.
The latter routinely is retold incorrectly. The high court voted 7-2 to stop the recount ordered by state courts, pointing out the recount was being conducted at odds with constitutional equal-protection requirements. The oft-cited 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice Rehnquist in the majority, concluded no recount could be conducted with uniform standards in the time allotted under the Constitution. Subsequent nonbinding recounts by media organizations concluded President Bush would have won under most of the recount scenarios being considered at the time.
Chief Justice Rehnquist's legacy suffers mainly from the public's inability to understand the distinction between supporting a constitutional principle and advocating a behavior or activity. For example, he did not vote in the minority in the landmark Lawrence vs. Texas case out of an animus toward homosexuals. He simply believed the state had the authority to legislate against homosexual activity, even in cases where it took place behind closed doors: "The 14th Amendment expressly allows States to deprive their citizens of 'liberty,' so long as 'due process of law' is provided. 'No state shall ... deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,'" wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in a dissent Chief Justice Rehnquist signed.
Similarly, Chief Justice Rehnquist landed in the minority in the medicinal-marijuana ruling earlier this year, but not because he advocated legalization of marijuana. Rather, he believed the precept federal authorities wielded to override state laws allowing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes -- the clause governing interstate commerce -- was bogus.
The national conversation about Supreme Court nominee Judge John Roberts, whom President Bush nominated this week to become chief justice as well, offers few grounds for optimism that public understanding of these issues has improved.
Reading the worst into his handling of research assignments and his use of blunt, vigorous prose, activists have declared him an opponent of women's and minority rights based on positions he has taken, in some cases on positions he was ordered to take.
The same people who insist Chief Justice Rehnquist personally handed the 2000 election to George W. Bush are ready to tar Judge Roberts as sexist and racist, ignoring the facts and legal reasoning that underpin his conclusions.
Chief Justice Rehnquist's quest was to roll back the radical liberalism of the 1960s era Supreme Court. He moved the court to the right but failed to reverse its worst excesses, not the least because a public obsessed with black-and-white labels found itself ill-equipped to rally to the coherent vision of conservatism he sought to promote with his rulings and dissents.
Same here at FR. Try telling some people that there is nothing in the Constitution that allows the federal government to outlaw recreational drugs.
I agree, there's no inherent "right" to use recreational drugs, any more than there is a "right" to have an abortion.
There is a right however, to keep and bear arms.
The libs just have all this backwards.
Like I said, just try telling some people that the government DOESN'T have the constitutional authority to do something.
Pray tell, please point to the exact portion of the constitution that grants the federal government the power to outlaw drugs. Or are you one of those people who believe that whatever the federal government is not prohibited from doing by the Constitution is allowed?
Are we incompetent children who must be minded by Nanny Government and Big Brother lest we kill our fool selves or are we free men and women who should determine for ourselves how to live our lives?
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