Sunday, November 18, 2012

Rehnquist: the Unh-hnh Moment

Years ago when the world was young, Mr. and Mrs. got to share a party boat with, inter alia,Chief Justice William Rehnquist.  After assorted bits of casual conversation and observation  she offered her insight.  

"He's a menace."

It wasn't precisely a political, substantive judgment.  Mrs. B didn't follow politics terribly closely in those days but she knew enough to understand that Rehnquist had been put on the Court by Richard Nixon to roll back--whatever.  What was news to her was not the substance, but personality: he was si easy-going, genial, modest, low-key: a guy in a baseball cap.  

It was a good call and it highlights one of the paradoxes of human behavior: Rehnquist was all that Ms. B observed and more: he drove a VW Rabbit and famously skipped the State of the Union address one year to attend his acrylics class.  Mr.Nice guy, setting aside, say, his utter indifference to the horrors of racial discrimation and his neaar-manic enthusiasm for the death penalty.  Also--but this may have taken more careful scrutiny--as manipulative and result-oriented as any judge since his great doppleganger, William O. Douglas.

All by way of background for one I hadn't heard until today.  It's in the New York Times review of a new biography of the Chief:

After years of promoting states’ rights — or “federalism” — and scoring some big victories, he surprised court-watchers by writing a decision holding that Congress could force states to give their employees family and medical leave. He may have gone “wobbly,” as Margaret Thatcher might have said, from watching the struggles of his daughter, a single mother.

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