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Thursday, September 03, 2015

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist

Ten years ago today, I got a phone call from my friend Janet, the old Chief's assistant, telling me that Chief Justice Rehnquist had died.  Here's the short thing I wrote for Slate that day, remembering him and the experience of working for him.  A bit:

. . . During my clerkship year, the chief, my co-clerks, and I played tennis together weekly at a public, outdoor court near Capitol Hill. (We played on the same day that the week's "cert memos," analyzing petitions filed by those seeking review of their cases, were due, so—more than a few times—clerks played without having slept.) We took turns driving and buying a new can of balls. I was the chief's doubles partner that year, and I several times beaned him with my hopelessly chaotic serves. One day, I am ashamed to admit, after yet another double-fault, I slammed my racket to the ground and yelled an extremely unattractive expletive. My co-clerks looked across the net at me in horror. The chief, though, didn't turn around. He just slowly bent over, put his hands on his knees, and started laughing. . .

The chief was a lawyer's lawyer. He taught and inspired me, and all of his clerks, to read carefully, to write clearly, and to think hard. He will, quite appropriately, be remembered as one of the few great chief justices. For me, though, William Rehnquist is more than a historic figure and a former boss. Today, thanks in no small part to him, I have a great job: I get paid to think, research, and write about things that matter and to teach friendly and engaged students about the law. I will always be grateful. And I hope that the deluge of political spin to come will not drown out what Americans should remember about the chief: He was a dedicated public servant, committed to the rule of law and to the court. He regarded himself as the bearer of a great trust and of a heavy obligation of stewardship. In my judgment, he was faithful to that trust, and he fulfilled that obligation.

Posted by Rick Garnett on September 3, 2015 at 09:35 AM in Rick Garnett | Permalink


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