Chief Justice's Rehnquist's death came six weeks after he refuted rumors that he would soon retire by announcing that he intended to serve as long as his health permitted. At the time of that announcement, on July 14, photographers had been camped out for weeks outside his house in Arlington, Va.
Following his diagnoses of cancer last October, the chief justice was treated with chemotherapy and radiation and missed months of the court's arguments. But he returned to the bench in March and participated actively in the court's business, despite breathing and speaking through a hole that surgeons had cut in his throat.
Instead of the chief justice, it was Justice Sandra Day O'Connor who announced her retirement at the end of the court's last term. President Bush named a former Rehnquist law clerk, Judge John G. Roberts Jr. of the federal appeals court here to succeed her, and confirmation hearings were set to begin on Tuesday.
Including 14 years as an associate justice, Chief Justice Rehnquist's tenure on the court was not only one of the longest in the institution's history but also one of the most consequential. With a steady hand, a focus and commitment that never wavered, and the muscular use of the power of judicial review, he managed to translate many of his long-held views into binding national precedent.
Chief among those was an enhanced role for the states within the federal system, which the court accomplished under his leadership by overturning dozens of federal laws that sought to project federal authority into what the Supreme Court majority viewed as the domain of the states.
In the zero-sum game of the tri-partite separation of powers, the Supreme Court's own power grew correspondingly as the justices circumscribed the power of Congress. The court's institutional enhancement was an irony of Chief Justice Rehnquist's tenure, because another goal that he accomplished in large measure was to shrink the role of the federal courts by taking them out of the business of running prisons, school systems and other institutions of government.
The Rehnquist years included one historic episode of galvanizing drama and deep divisiveness, the decision in Bush v. Gore that decided the 2000 presidential election by ending the recount in Florida and handing a wafer-thin victory to George W. Bush. While Chief Justice Rehnquist voted with the 5 to 4 majority, his central role in the case was largely behind the scenes and the controlling opinion did not carry his name.
While Chief Justice Rehnquist was a self-confident and not unduly modest man, that near-invisibility was itself quite characteristic and led many people to assume incorrectly that one of his flashier colleagues, Justice Antonin Scalia, had played the stage-manager's role in the events that resulted in the final decision in Bush v. Gore.
"Rehnquist is the opposite of Scalia," Professor Robert C. Post of the law school at the University of California at Berkeley said in an interview. "Rehnquist doesn't particularly want to be noticed. He's not interested in getting credit. He's just interested in getting the job done."
Chief Justice Rehnquist also had the unusual experience of presiding over a presidential impeachment trial, a role ordained for the chief justice by the Constitution. During the five weeks in early 1999 that it took the Senate to try and acquit President Bill Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, the chief justice was an unfamiliar presence in the Senate chamber, occasionally moving the proceedings along but having little of substance to do. "I did nothing in particular and I did it very well," he told a television interviewer, Charlie Rose, two years later, borrowing a line from one of his favorite Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, "Iolanthe."
"Iolanthe" also inspired Chief Justice Rehnquist to modify his basic black judicial robe by adding four gold stripes to each sleeve, copying the costume worn by the Lord Chancellor in a local production of the operetta. Since the chief justice had never paid any noticeable attention to his attire, the new adornment was startling. Where some saw self-aggrandizement, others saw the sartorial manifestation of a wry sense of humor.
Chief Justice Rehnquist was an efficient administrator who had the affection and respect of even those colleagues who disagreed with him most vigorously. On Jan. 7, 2002, the 30th anniversary of his swearing-in as a justice, Justice John Paul Stevens, the senior associate justice and a liberal who was the furthest removed from the chief justice ideologically, read a statement from the bench congratulating him for reaching the milestone.
"On behalf of all your colleagues," Justice Stevens said, "I want to express our sincere appriciation for the exemplary way in which you have performed the special responsibilities of your high office, with particular emphasis on the efficiency, good humor, and absolute impartiality that you have consistently displayed when presiding at our conferences."
Chief Justice Rehnquist was a lucky man, in that the turn of the political wheel sent new justices to the court and provided him with sufficient allies - if barely so - for his most cherished causes. His unusually long tenure also provided the gift of time.
But his ultimate success was also a testament to his own tenacity and skill. He combined an unfaltering sense of mission with high intelligence, patience, the strategic prowess of a serious poker player, which he was, and the attention to detail of an art-lover and serious amateur painter, which he also was. He had held many of his views since early adulthood, and he took the long view: with seeming nonchalance, he would plant a phrase in an opinion in the expectation that it would take root, blossom, and prove even more useful in some future case. Time proved him right, not always, but often enough.
A Nixon Appointee
William H. Rehnquist was 47 years old and far to the right of the judicial mainstream when President Richard M. Nixon named him to the Supreme Court as an associate justice in 1971. A Goldwater Republican, he was then an assistant attorney general in the Nixon Justice Department. He was a polarizing figure, the symbol of the president's determination to dismantle the liberal legacy of the Warren Court.
Two and a half years into the chief justiceship of Warren E. Burger, that goal appeared far distant, given the continued service of such liberal titans as Justices William O. Douglas, William J. Brennan Jr., and Thurgood Marshall. In his first decade on the court, until he gained allies through the three appointments made by President Ronald Reagan, Justice Rehnquist was frequently a lone dissenter, his language pithy but his arguments seemingly futile.
"The existence of the death penalty in this country is virtually an illusion," he declared in one typical dissent in 1981, complaining that "virtually nothing happens except endlessly drawn out legal proceedings." No other member of the court joined him.
But eventually not only a majority of the court but Congress as well - due in part to Chief Justice Rehnquist's advocacy from his platform as head of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the judiciary's policy-making arm - agreed that there were too many procedural obstacles blocking states from carrying out the death penalty. Through the interaction of legislation and Supreme Court decisions, the pace of executions quickened sharply through the 1990's.
In general, there was little in those early years to indicate the success that lay ahead. Named by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 as the 16th chief justice of the United States, succeeding Warren Burger, he eventually presided over a working, if narrow, conservative majority that turned his one-time dissents into majority opinions and gave him the power to shape the law according to views he had held as a young lawyer and even as a student before that.
When he took his seat as an associate justice on Jan. 7, 1972, the dominant theme in discussions about the Supreme Court was law and order. President Nixon was a harsh critic of the criminal procedure decisions of the Warren Court and correctly discerned that he would have an ally in Assistant Attorney General Rehnquist. During the Rehnquist years, the court enhanced the ability of the police to conduct searches and to have the results of the search introduced at trial; expanded police officers' immunity from suit for constitutional violations; and cut back sharply on the role of the federal courts in reviewing state-court criminal convictions.
Chief Justice Rehnquist defied the expectations of many, however, in voting in June, 2000, to reaffirm one of the Warren Court's most famous and disputed rulings, Miranda v. Arizona, which required the police, as a protection against coerced confessions, to advise suspects of their right to counsel and to remain silent.
Chief Justice Rehnquist lost some battles, as well, on a court that remained closely divided on most fundamental issues. One of the only two dissenters, with Justice Byron R. White, from the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that recognized a constitutional right to abortion, he fell short by one vote in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 of seeing that decision overruled.
And in a 1989 case, Texas v. Johnson, that found flag-burning to be a form of political expression protected by the First Amendment, he was reduced to the role of impassioned dissenter. Quoting the famous lines, "Shoot if you must, this old grey head, but spare your country's flag," from the Civil War poem, "Barbara Frietchie," he said the flag was "the visible symbol embodying our Nation" and "not simply another 'idea' or 'point of view' competing in the marketplace of ideas."
He remained a lightning rod whose influence was deplored by liberal academics and commentators. In a 2003 critique of the Rehnquist Court, "Overruling Democracy" (Routledge), Professor Jamin B. Raskin of the American University Law School wrote that Chief Justice Rehnquist's legacy was "a thick jurisprudence hostile to popular democracy and protective of race privilege and corporate power." But his tenure had many admirers. Kenneth W. Starr, the former solicitor general, praised the Rehnquist years in his book on the court, "First Among Equals" (Warner Books, 2002) for returning to "lawyerly rigor" and rejecting the "policy-making" tendencies of the court under Chief Justices Earl Warren and Warren E. Burger.
Through it all, through two testy confirmation hearings and decades as the highly visible embodiment of the court's counterrevolution, William Rehnquist remained a nearly imperturbable figure who strolled the court's grounds, unrecognized, in a jaunty straw boater and padded its halls in rubber-soled Hush Puppies, size 14D.
At six feet three inches, and often stooped due to back pain, he was rather ungainly. A flat Midwestern accent revealed his Wisconsin childhood, although he left the Midwest for military service in World War II at the age of 19 and never returned there to live. His adopted home state was Arizona.
He loved amateur theatricals, led his law clerks in sing-alongs, and would bet with his fellow justices over anything, including the depth of snow on the marble plaza outside the court. He answered a contest in The Washington Post, which asked readers to figure out what make of car was referred to by the license place 1 DIV 0. "I believe it refers to an Infiniti, since when you divide 0 into 1, the result is infinity," he wrote in his winning answer.
Judge, and Author
He wrote books on Supreme Court history as well as an unpublished murder mystery set in the Justice Department. Asked by Brian Lamb of C-Span, in a 1998 interview, why he liked to write books, he replied: "It's very nice to be able to write something you don't have to get four other people to agree with before it can become authoritative."
One of the most notable aspects of Chief Justice Rehnquist's career was his consistency. Five years into his tenure on the Court, the Harvard Law Review published a "preliminary" appraisal by Professor David L. Shapiro. Professor Shapiro identified three basic elements of the Rehnquist judicial philosophy: conflicts between the individual and the government should be resolved against the individual; conflicts between state and federal authority should be resolved in favor of the states; and questions of the exercise of federal jurisdiction should be resolved against such exercise. The 1976 article was often cited in later years because it proved to be such a reliable roadmap to the Rehnquist judicial philosophy.
Chief Justice Rehnquist, who had masters degrees in political science from both Stanford and Harvard Universities, defined himself in political science terms as a pluralist, one who believed there should be numerous sources of power within the government. "I'm a strong believer in pluralism," he told an interviewer in 1985. "Don't concentrate all the power in one place."
This outlook translated into a limited view of the role of the federal courts, because the courts were simply one institution among others, with no claim to greater wisdom or moral authority. This view was in sharp contrast to the judicial liberalism that was dominant when Chief Justice Rehnquist came of age as a young lawyer, when the federal courts were thought to have - or behaved as if they had - an almost oracular ability to discern the hidden meaning of the Constitution in light of the public good.
His belief in a limited judicial role was further bolstered by a long-held skepticism about whether any theory of the common good was inherently preferable to any other. In a 1976 article, "The Notion of a Living Constitution," published in the University of Texas Law Review, he wrote: "There is no conceivable way in which I can logically demonstrate to you that the judgments of my conscience are superior to the judgments of your conscience, and vice versa. Many of us necessarily feel strongly and deeply about our own moral judgments, but they remain only personal moral judgments until in some way given the sanction of law."
Analyzing this passage in a 1994 article in the Rutgers Law Journal, Professor Thomas W. Merrill of Northwestern University Law School said Justice Rehnquist's point was that "the only way to choose between moral judgments in a democratic socity is to take a vote, and adhere to the judgment endorsed by a majority."
In later life, Chief Justice Rehnquist cheerfully agreed that he had adhered to the same views over the decades and appeared bemused by the response this sometimes evoked in others. To a questioner in 1994 who asked him whether his thinking on any major legal question had "evolved" over time, the Chief Justice cocked an eyebrow and said in a wry tone: "Do you mean, have I shown a capacity for growth?"
He was eventually able to transform long-held views into the law of the land. In 1952, after his graduation from Stanford University Law School, he took a coveted job as a law clerk to a Supreme Court justice, Robert H. Jackson. In one memo to the justice suggesting what the court should do with a pending criminal case, the young clerk argued that the court should abandon its rule that called for automatically reversing a conviction if a confession had been coerced. The evidence in the appeal before the court showed that the three defendants were "guilty as sin," and the fact that their confessions may have been coerced should be disregarded as "harmless error," he said.
The court did not take the law clerk's advice, but in 1991 Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the opinion for the court in a case called Arizona v. Fulminante, holding for the first time that coerced confessions could be admitted as "harmless error" if other evidence was sufficient to establish guilt.
He wrote opinions in almost every area of the law. Among his most important opinions were those that set limits on the meaning of the Constitution's due process guarantee, declining to expand the boundaries of due process in a way that would create new rights or encroach on state power. These decisions marked an important shift by the Court away from a period of great expansion of the concept of constitutional due process.
For example, his majority opinion in a 1976 case, Paul v. Davis, held that a man who had been falsely identified as a convicted shoplifter in a flyer circulated by the Louisville, Ky. police department could not sue the police chief for violating the 14th amendment's guarantee of due process of law. The man might well have a valid case for defamation in the Kentucky state courts, Justice Rehnquist wrote, but to permit him to sue under the Constitution in federal court "would make of the 14th Amendment a font of tort law to be superimposed upon whatever systems may already be administered by the States."
In similar fashion, a 1989 majority opinion, DeShaney v. Winnebago County, rejected the argument that state-employed social workers deprived a young boy of his right to due process by leaving him in the care of an abusive father who then beat him into an irreversible coma. The purpose of the due process guarantee, Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote, "was to protect the people from the State, not to ensure that the State protected them from each other." He added: "The Framers were content to leave the extent of governmental obligation in the latter area to the democratic political processes."
A 1979 majority opinion, Bell v. Wolfish, held that it did not violate the Constitution for prison officials to place two prisoners in a cell designed for one. There is not "some sort of one-man, one-cell principle lurking in the due process clause," Justice Rehnquist wrote.
A Shift in Power
His majority opinions could be cryptic, sometimes only hinting at the legal reasoning, let alone the broader context or implications of the ruling. He was a fast and prolific writer, whose efforts to spur his colleagues to similar levels of speed and productivity were often disappointed.
He staked his ground early in the debate over the boundary between state and federal authority. His majority opinion in a 1976 case, National League of Cities v. Usery, invalidated the application of federal minimum wage and hour requirements to employees of state and local governments. While a narrow majority overturned that decision, over Justice Rehnquist's dissent, nine years later in Garcia v. San Antonio Transit, the 1976 opinion had the important effect of reviving interest in the 10th Amendment. That amendment, previously one of the most obscure provisions of the Bill of Rights, reserves to the states or "to the people" any powers not explicitly given elsewhere in the Constitution to the federal government.
The 1976 decision put federal regulatory authority on the defensive as it had not been for a generation. Chief Justice Rehnquist's majority opinion in United States v. Lopez in 1995 raised the stakes in the debate over federal authority even higher. The decision declared unconstitutional a Federal law, the Gun Free School Zones Act of 1990, that made it a federal crime to carry a gun within 1,000 feet of a school.
He said that because the possession of guns near schools "has nothing to do with 'commerce' or any sort of economic enterprise, however broadly one might define those terms," Congress lacked authority to pass the law under its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce. The decision marked the first time since the New Deal that the Court had invalidated an exercise by Congress of its commerce authority. The Lopez case was followed by a series of decisions expanding state immunity from federal regulation and constricting the authority of Congress. Nearly all were decided by 5-to-4 votes. Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony M. Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas were his reliable allies in the Rehnquist Court's federalism revolution.
As chief justice, he was outspoken in his impatience with Supreme Court precedents with which he disagreed. A 1991 majority opinion, Payne v. Tennessee, was essentially a manifesto for overruling precedents. In that case, the court overruled two earlier rulings that had barred prosecutors in death penalty cases from introducing evidence about the impact of the crime on the victim's family and community.
In his opinion, Chief Justice Rehnquist described general categories of precedents most suitable for overruling: constitutional cases, which unlike cases interpreting statutes cannot be corrected by Congress if they are in error; cases involving rules of evidence or procedural rights, in which people have no vested economic interest; and cases that have been decided "by the narrowest of margins, over spirited dissents challenging the basic underpinnings of those decisions."
Spirited in Dissent
Many of his own dissents over the years could easily be described as spirited, although he toned down his rhetoric after he became chief justice. The fact that no one else agreed with him was no deterrent to publishing a strong dissent. In fact, when he was nominated to be chief justice, he was the court's most frequent lone dissenter, and some senators wondered aloud whether he could work effectively with his colleagues. Those concerns soon proved groundless.
He was the only dissenter in a high-profile 1983 case, Bob Jones University v. United States, in which the court upheld the refusal of the Internal Revenue Service to grant tax-exempt status to a private university with racially discriminatory policies for student behavior - a ban on interracial dating or marriage. In dissent, Justice Rehnquist argued that while "I have no disagreement with the Court's finding that there is a strong national policy in this country opposed to racial discrimination," Congress had not given the I.R.S. authority to deny tax-exempt status on that basis.
In a 1985 religion case, Wallace v. Jaffree, he dissented from the court's decision to strike down an Alabama law that provided a daily moment for silent prayer in the public schools. He said the court's modern precedents on religion were wrong, based on what he said was a misguided belief that the Constitution's framers meant to erect a "wall of separation" between church and state. All the framers had intended, he said, was to prohibit the establishment of a national religion and to forbid preferential treatment of one denomination over another, not to make the government neutral "between religion and irreligion" or to prevent government aid to religion on a nondiscriminatory basis.
In Chief Justice Rehnquist's entire tenure on the court, there was no decision more disputed than Bush v. Gore, the 5-to-4 ruling that ended the 2000 presidential election as well as the bizarre 34-day post-election period of lawsuits and recounts.
The initial question for the Supreme Court was whether to get involved at all in the dispute between the two candidates, Vice President Al Gore and Mr. Bush, then the governor of Texas, over the inconclusive outcome of the election in Florida, where it was clear that the state's 25 electoral votes would determine the outcome of the election despite Mr. Gore's majority in the nationwide popular vote. Mr. Bush held an evanescent lead in Florida, fewer than 2,000 votes on election night out of nearly 6 million cast and only 327 after an initial machine recount, a margin that Mr. Gore threatened to erase in a recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court.
As November became December with no official winner, it appeared that election night would never end. But the events that led to the final decision were extraordinarily compressed. On Dec. 9, the day after the Florida Supreme Court ordered a new recount, the chief justice and Justices Scalia, O'Connor, Kennedy, and Thomas voted to issue a stay, freezing the recount that had just begun. They also accepted the Bush appeal and scheduled argument for Dec. 11. Through the night after the argument and the long day that followed, the country waited for the result. At 10 p.m. on Dec. 12, the court issued its ruling. An unsigned opinion by the same five justices held that a lack of uniform standards for counting ballots from county to county meant that the recount would violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. There was no time to fix the problem, the majority held, so there could be no further counting.
Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote a concurring opinion, which Justices Scalia and Thomas also signed, arguing that the Florida Supreme Court had usurped the state legislature's authority, under the Constitution and a federal statute, to determine the rules for conducting elections.
The decision was tremendously controversial. Its defenders maintained that whatever the analytical deficiencies of the majority opinion, the court's intervention had the benefit of sparing the country further uncertainty that was on the verge of turning into a real crisis. The court's critics called the decision an activist and basically partisan act; it was unseemly, they said, for justices to be selecting the president who foreseeably would be in the position to choose their own successors. Whatever the merits of this debate, predictions that the Supreme Court would plummet in the public's esteem proved unfounded, and the country, if not the legal academy that produced a shelf of books on the episode, soon moved on.
Chief Justice Rehnquist often said that he was strongly influenced in his world view by a book he read as a young man, "The Road to Serfdom," by Friedrich von Hayek, the Austrian-born, Nobel Prize-winning economist. A best-seller after its publication in 1944, the book warned of the dangers of collectivism and big government and predicted that socialism, the "road to serfdom" of the title, would eventually collapse.
But his political opinions were by many accounts formed years earlier, in the secure, middle-class household where he grew up with a younger sister, Jean, in Shorewood, Wis., a suburb of Milwaukee. William Hubbs Rehnquist was born in Milwaukee on Oct. 1, 1924. His paternal grandparents had immigrated from Sweden to the Chicago area. His father, William Benjamin Rehnquist, worked in the paper business as a wholesale broker to the graphic arts industry. His mother, Margery Peck Rehnquist, was fluent in several languages and worked part-time as a translator for local companies.
His parents were conservative Republicans. President Hoover was admired in the household. Franklin D. Roosevelt distinctly was not. Young Bill Rehnquist's classmates from those days later told interviewers that his political conservatism was distinctive. He did well in high school, graduating in 1942 with a scholarship to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. But he left after a few months to enlist in the Army Air Corps. He did not see combat during World War II. He spent time in North Africa as a weather observer and was discharged in 1946 with the rank of sergeant.
He had been sufficiently impressed with the North African climate to decide that he did not want to return to the Midwest. He attended Stanford University on the G.I. Bill, graduating in 1948 as a member of Phi Beta Kappa with both a bachelors and masters degree in political science. He went to Harvard to continue his graduate studies, but complained to friends about "Harvard liberalism."
On something of a whim, he took the law school aptitude test and did extremely well. Leaving Harvard with a second masters degree, he entered law school at Stanford on a scholarship and graduated first in his class in 1952 with his Supreme Court clerkship in hand. The No. 3 class ranking was held by a young woman from Arizona named Sandra Day, later to be his Supreme Court colleague, Sandra Day O'Connor.
In his book "The Supreme Court: How It Was, How It Is," the chief justice described driving to Washington, where he had been only once before, in his 1941 Studebaker to start his 18-month clerkship. The book is an account of some of the court's famous cases and aside from some anecdotal material is not a personal memoir. But it offers a vivid depiction of the combination of enthusiasm and awkwardness with which the young lawyer began the next phase of his life. He described his curiosity about what his working hours would be but his reluctance to ask even his fellow law clerk, who had already been there for some months, "because it somehow seemed to indicate less than complete devotion to the job."
The Brown Case
Justice Jackson, who served on the court from 1941 until his death in 1954, had been a close adviser to President Roosevelt, serving as solicitor general and attorney general. During his Supreme Court tenure, he also served as the chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials in 1945 and 1946.
The young law clerk admired his justice although there was much on which they disagreed. A memo that clerk Rehnquist wrote for Justice Jackson in 1952 on the school desegregation cases then before the Court, including Brown v. Board of Education, came back to haunt him at both his own Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
Entitled "A Random Thought on the Segregation Cases," the memo argued that the attack on school segregation should be rejected and the separate-but-equal doctrine the Court had endorsed in the notorious Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 "was right and should be reaffirmed."
"I realize that it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position, for which I have been excoriated by my 'liberal' colleagues," Mr. Rehnquist wrote to Justice Jackson. He also wrote that "in the long run it is the majority who will determine what the constitutional rights of the minority are."
The memo, which remained in Justice Jackson files, caused a furor when it surfaced during Mr. Rehnquist's 1971 confirmation hearing. Both then and during his 1986 hearing on his nomination to be Chief Justice, he said that the memo did not express his personal view, but had been drafted at Justice Jackson's request as a summary of the Justice's views.
"I fully support the legal reasoning and the rightness from the standpoint of fundamental fairness of the Brown decision," Mr. Rehnquist said at his 1971 hearing.
In 1953, he married Natalie Cornell, a fellow Stanford graduate who was then working in Washington for the Central Intelligence Agency. They had a son, James, and two daughters, Janet and Nancy. It was a strong marriage and Mrs. Rehnquist, who was known as Nan, was very popular at the Court. She died in 1991 after a long battle with cancer. .
Chief Justice Rehnquist is survived by three children: Janet Rehnquist of Arlington, James C. of Sharon, Mass., and Nancy Spears of Middlebury, Vt.; his sister, Jean Larin of Grand Rapids, Mich.; and nine grandchildren.
After his clerkship ended, the Rehnquists chose Phoenix as a place to settle. He joined a law firm there and became active in Republican politics and in civic affairs. In a 1957 speech to a local bar association, he criticized liberal Justices on the Warren Court for "making the Constitution say what they wanted it to say." He also spoke publicly against a proposed local law barring racial discrimination in public accommodations and against an integration plan for the Phoenix public schools. He campaigned in 1964 for the conservative Republican Presidential nominee, Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona.
He became friendly with Richard G. Kleindienst, a Phoenix lawyer who helped run Nixon's successful presidential campaign in 1968. When Mr. Kleindienst went to Washington as Deputy Attorney General, he recommended Mr. Rehnquist for a job. As assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, Mr. Rehnquist was suddenly in a high-profile position, testifying often before Congress to give the Nixon Administration's views on obscenity, wiretapping, national security and other sensitive subjects.
He thrived in the Justice Department, entranced by the sense of immediacy and by wrestling with the great issues of the day. Years later, as chief justice, he described his three years there with evident nostalgia as the high point of his professional life.
He had very little contact with the president himself. In one of the Watergate tapes, Nixon was recording as referring to "that group of clowns" at the Justice Department, "Renchburg and that group." According to an account by John W. Dean, Nixon's White House counsel, Nixon stopped by briefly at a meeting that Mr. Rehnquist was running and later summoned his counsel to ask: "John, who the hell is that clown?"
"I beg your pardon?" Mr. Dean replied.
"The guy dressed like a clown, who's running the meeting," the president said in an evident reference to Mr. Rehnquist's pink shirt and clashing psychedelic necktie.
Nonetheless, Nixon nominated him in October, 1971 to a Supreme Court vacancy caused by the retirement of Justice John M. Harlan
The nomination of Mr. Rehnquist as well as the simultaneous nomination of Lewis F. Powell Jr., a former president of the American Bar Association, to succeed Justice Hugo L. Black was a last-minute affair. The American Bar Association indicated that it would not approve the original choices for the two vacancies and the administration wanted to avoid a protracted struggle.
While Mr. Powell was easily confirmed, the confirmation process for Mr. Rehnquist was much more acrimonious. His hearing lasted five days. Liberal senators as well as civil rights leaders denounced him as a right-wing extremist. The final vote was 68 to 26, and Mr. Rehnquist took his seat as the 100th Justice on Jan. 7, 1972.
His confirmation hearing to become chief justice nearly 15 years later was something of a rerun. President Reagan named him on June 17, 1986, to succeed Warren E. Burger, who retired from the Court to head the national commission in charge of the bicentennial celebration of the Constitution. Questions at the Rehnquist confirmation hearing ranged over his political activities in Arizona, to the advice he gave the Nixon Administration, to a racially restrictive - and legally unenforceable - covenant on the deed to his Vermont vacation house.
The Judiciary Committee also reviewed his medical record, which included the use for nine years of increasing doses of a prescribed hypnotic drug, Placidyl, to help him sleep while suffering severe back pain. He had been hospitalized for 10 days in late 1981 to be weaned off the drug, which had caused side effects including slurred speech.
Few minds were changed during the prolonged debate, and the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed him to be chief justice by a vote of 65 to 33 on Sept. 17, 1986. At the same time, Antonin Scalia was confirmed by a vote of 98 to 0 to the seat he was vacating as an associate justice. The two men were sworn in on Sept. 26.
While the new chief justice found the confirmation process extremely disagreeable, he kept his composure and even his wry sense of humor. At one point, a Republican Senator, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, commended him for his recent dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree, the case on silent prayer in the Alabama public schools. Senator Hatch observed that the Senate Judiciary Committee had voted for a constitutional amendment to allow such prayer. "What you have been labeled extreme for, is something a majority of this committee supports," Senator Hatch said.
Justice Rehnquist smiled and shrugged. "We're all extremists together," he said.