Sunday, September 04, 2005

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, 1924-2005.

Earlier this summer there was a lot of speculation in the media about when and whether Chief Justice Rehnquist would retire from the Court. As I told anyone who would listen, I always had a hunch the Chief would die in office. A widower and a workhorse, Rehnquist struck me as the kind of guy who wanted to die with his boots on, remaining active on the bench until the very end of his life. I guess I was right: Rehnquist died yesterday at age 80, not as a lonely retiree, but as the sitting Chief Justice of the United States.

I saw Chief Justice Rehnquist at least twice in person. The first time was while I was an undergrad at Georgetown. For a class assignment I attended oral arguments at the Supreme Court, an experience I highly recommend. At times, the Court can be the best show in Washington. The proceedings struck me as surprisingly warm and informal; justices and counsel frequently exchanged amusing banter, and titters of laughter sometimes filled the room. Though he generally remained serious and stonefaced, the Chief Justice had a zinger of a comment ready when one lawyer asked for additional time: "You may continue if you wish, Counsel, but if you do, I believe you may lose this case." The lawyer subsequently dropped his request. I never found out how the Court ruled on the case, the name of which I no longer remember.

The second time I saw Chief Justice Rehnquist was as a 2L at Notre Dame Law School. You can read about Rehnquist's visit to NDLS in these articles from the Observer and Notre Dame Lawyer. I was lucky enough to snag a ticket to the Chief Justice's closed-door lecture in the NDLS mock courtroom, and I regret to report that Rehnquist was a lot less engaging in an academic setting than he had been on the bench. Even so, I'm grateful to have had two chances to see a sitting chief justice. The Rehnquist family will be in my thoughts and prayers. AMDG.


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