President Nixon appointed four members of the US Supreme Court. His most influential, and last, nominee was Rehnquist, who was nominated in 1971 when there were two open seats. A "relatively obscure" assistant attorney general, Rehnquist was championed by John Dean (he of Watergate fame). The Nixon Whitehouse had also talked with then Sen. Howard Baker (R-TN), but according to Dean, Baker didn't act quickly enough. Then in 1986, President Reagan made Rehnquist the 16th Chief Justice of the United States.
Politically, the conservative Rehnquist was a Goldwater Republican. In those first 15 years, he often wrote solo dissents. His earlier passions focused on federalism (limiting Congressional power or strengthening state powers) and expression of religion (arguing that "that just because an action is religiously motivated, does not make it consequence-free for society, and should not make it consequence-free, under society's laws.")
Rehnquist also voted consistently in support of the death penalty and in opposition to gay rights, rulings which surprised few. In fact, the New York Times reports that in 1976, the Harvard Law Review published a "preliminary" appraisal of Rehnquist which identified three themes:
... 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.
As time passed, and other conservative Republican Presidents made inroads into Court composition (notably, Reagan), Rehnquist's views moved from minority to majority. Some argue that after becoming Chief Justice, he would strategically vote with the majority in order to write the decision.
Rehnquist is also praised for his administrative acumen. Among the responsibilities of a Chief Justice are assigning who will write majority decisions; managing the docket; and supervising about 300 court employees. Former clerk Jay Jorgensen tells CNN:
[Rehnquist] set up a system during conferences where every justice, one by one, in order of seniority, is allowed to weigh in on a case... There is no free-for-all debate. The chief justice does not allow bickering. He shuts it down.
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