"The Chief Justice was a brave, intelligent man deeply committed to maintaining the rule of law and preserving an independent judiciary."

Remembering Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist

The Chief Justice On
Our Limited Government:

“We start with first principles. The Constitution creates a Federal Government of enumerated powers. As James Madison wrote, ‘[t]he powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.’ This constitutionally mandated division of authority was adopted by the Framers to ensure protection of our fundamental liberties. Just as the separation and independence of the coordinate branches of the Federal Government serves to prevent the accumulation of excessive power in any one branch, a healthy balance of power between the States and the Federal Government will reduce the risk of tyranny and abuse from either front.”  (United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 552 (1995))

President George W. Bush:

“In every chapter of his life, William Rehnquist stood apart for his powerful intellect and clear convictions. In a profession that values disciplined thought and persuasive ability, a talent like his gets noticed in a hurry. Still in his 40s, he became the 100th Justice of the Supreme Court, and one of the youngest in modern times. After he moved to the center chair, William Rehnquist led the Court for nearly two decades, and earned a place among our greatest chief justices. He built consensus through openness and collegiality. He was a distinguished scholar of the Constitution and a superb administrator of the judicial conference. He understood the role of a judge and the place of courts in our constitutional system. He was prudent in exercising judicial power, and firm in defending judicial independence.”

The Chief Justice’s Colleagues on His Life and Legacy:

Justice John Paul Stevens:

“William Rehnquist’s independent, impartial, and dedicated leadership of the Supreme Court has been an inspiration to those of us privileged to serve with him — and to the entire Nation as well. Charles Evans Hughes, a great Chief Justice whom he particularly admired, would have been proud of the example he set as the leader of the Court. He was truly the first among equals in discharging his judicial duties in a prompt, scholarly and fair manner.”

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor:

“William Rehnquist will go down in history as one of the great Chief Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. He steered the Court along a path of responsibility and careful analysis throughout his 19 years as Chief Justice. He led the Court with firm principles but with a light touch. He never lost his sense of humor and he was able to secure the cooperation and admiration of all of the Justices for the years in which he served.”

Justice Antonin Scalia:

“Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist led a philosophically diverse group of Justices through 19 years in which public attention was focused upon the Supreme Court to an unprecedented degree. His keen intellect and sound judgment commanded the respect of his colleagues, and his personal qualities of considerateness and fairness won their affection. His death is a loss to the Court, to all the federal judiciary that he headed for so long, and to the Nation.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy:

“William Rehnquist was a warm, compassionate, decent man; a brilliant jurist; and a Chief Justice of superb and historic stature. In his personal relations he was unpretentious to the point of being casual, almost as if to put friends and colleagues at ease with his vast knowledge of history, remarkable grasp of the law, and a mind so precise he was at once formidable and delightful. He was a skillful presiding officer of exemplary fairness. He loved his family. The American people can be grateful to them for the distinguished public service William Rehnquist gave to the Court and to our Nation.”

Justice Clarence Thomas:

“Virginia and I were deeply saddened to learn of the death of the Chief Justice. We will miss him deeply as a friend and as a colleague. He was a good man who epitomized fairness, dignity, and strength of character.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

“Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was the fairest, most efficient boss I have ever had. Speaking of his role in a 2002 address, he said: ‘[T]he Chief Justice has placed in his hands some of the tools which will enable him to be primus among the pares but his stature will depend on how he uses them.’ In his leadership of the U.S. Judiciary and his superintendence of the Supreme Court, William H. Rehnquist used to great effect the tools Congress and tradition entrusted to him. A plain speaker without airs or affectations, the Chief fostered a spirit of collegiality among the nine of us perhaps unparalleled in the Court’s history. He regarded an independent judiciary as our country’s hallmark and pride, and in his annual reports, he constantly urged Congress to safeguard that independence. On the obligation key to judging, he cautioned that a judge steps out of the proper judicial role most conspicuously and dangerously when the judge flinches from a decision that is legally right because the bottom line is not the one ‘the home crowd wants.’ I held him in highest regard and affection, and will miss him greatly.”

Justice Stephen G. Breyer:

“The Chief Justice was a brave, intelligent man deeply committed to maintaining the rule of law and preserving an independent judiciary. He understood the Court and its history. He administered the Court, as he did the judicial system, effectively and with great fairness. He never allowed disagreements about the law to become personal and the Court followed his example. I much admired his personal and legal strength.”

William H. Rehnquist
October 1, 1924 — September 3, 2005

September 8 , 2005
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