There are times, if only for brief moments, that partisan politics should not matter. Last night, the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court William H. Rehnquist died at his home in Arlington, Virginia.
Our nation is in desperate need of strong leadership as a portion of our country is in a declared state of emergency, there are now not one, but two vacancies on the Supreme Court, and the Court now lacks a strong conservative agenda. Now is not the time to play partisan politics or to speculate over a successor. Now is the time to consider Rehnquist a towering component of history.
Coming from the left end of the political spectrum, it isn't often that I harbor such a strong love, respect, and admiration for someone as conservative as Rehnquist. But over the years I have grown to appreciate the man's role in history more than anything. My generation most clearly remembers his role in the impeachment of President Clinton as well as the Court's role in the 2000 presidential election, but generations before mine remember Rehnquist's role in opposing Roe v. Wade, the Miranda case, and the ban on school prayer. Rehnquist has his hand in a great deal of history.
For me I guess my admiration of Rehnquist began several years ago, but began with something Rehnquist did before he was even on the Court. Anyone has really studied the Cold War Era knows that there was a particular chief justice with relatively the same magnitude of influence as Rehnquist. Even today when I look at Earl Warren I wonder how one man can have that kind of power. Fabricated or tainted, he still held more power than any other justice, next only to Rehnquist. I read a quote this morning from a professor at Georgetown Law: "When the history of the Supreme Court in the 20th century is written, there will be two great chief justices: Earl Warren and William Rehnquist." Knowing the capability of Warren, in the 50s, Rehnquist took him on. Rehnquist opposed the major rulings of the Warren Court.
Not just in his encounters with the Warren legacy, but often, Rehnquist demonstrated his understanding of the Court's role in history. While the Court heard Brown v. the Board, Rehnquist was writing an article on Plessy v. Ferguson. He entered the political arena of the Supreme Court as Vietnam was wrapping up and Watergate was beginning. It is safe to say that in thirty-three years on the bench he deserves his own and is his own chapter of history.
I don't know what the death of Rehnquist will bring to the Court. I can't even begin to predict the type of justice President Bush will put in his place as his selection of Roberts, a white conservative male, to replace Sandra Day O'Connor blindsided me. What I hope is that his successor brings to the bench the same amount of stalwart belief and an attempt at understanding his/her role in history just as Rehnquist did.
William Hubbs Rehnquist