Monday, October 29, 2012

Daily Read: New Rehnquist Biography

RehnquistBioThe Partisan: The Life of William Rehnquist by John A Jenkins, published by Public Affairs Books this month is the first - - - and seemingly largely unflattering - - - biography of the former Chief Justice.  Jenkins writes:

To be William Rehnquist was to consider one's self misunderstood—and with good reason. Rehnquist often appeared to be living in a private world of his own invention, and probing strangers were not welcome. . . .

Even as a young man in the 1950s, Rehnquist boldly preached an uncompromising brand of conservatism, and he espoused views—and acted on them—that were racist even by the standards of that era. Confronted later in the Senate, he took a disingenuous approach with his critics, lying his way out of trouble. Having taken his knocks in two brutal confirmation hearings, he deeply mistrusted the press, and he did his best to frustrate coverage or, failing that, to keep the stories about him one dimensional.

Reviewing the book in the LA Times, Jim Newton argues that the book does ignore some of the ways in which Rehnquist did "reconsider some views, most notably in the area of the Miranda case, which Rehnquist deplored for years but then upheld in 2000, concluding that it had become so enmeshed in American law and society that it would be improper to overrule it."  

And Newton situates the biography of Rehnquist within the contemporary Court, observing that

If Rehnquist were alive and serving today, he'd be a moderate on the court, outflanked to his right by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and, arguably, Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts. Even Rehnquist would have found that hard to imagine.


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