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William Hubbs Rehnquist Edit Profile

judge , Lawyer

William Hubbs Rehnquist was an American lawyer and jurist who served on the Supreme Court of the United States for 33 years, first as an Associate Justice from 1972 to 1986, and then as the 16th Chief Justice of the United States from 1986 until his death in 2005. Considered a conservative, Rehnquist favored a conception of federalism that emphasized the Tenth Amendment's reservation of powers to the states.


William Hubbs Rehnquist was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on October 1, 1924, the son of William B. Rehnquist, a wholesale paper salesman, and Margery Peck Rehnquist.


Alter graduating from high school in Shorewood, Wisconsin, he attended Keynon College in Ohio for a year before joining the Army Air Corp in 1943 and spending die next three years as a weather observer in North Africa.

After World War II, Rehnquist used the G.I. Bill and a willingness to hold a steady stream of parе-time jobs to attend Stanford University, where he earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in political science. He added to this a master’s degree from Harvard in government before returning to Stanford for law school. The man who would one day be chief justice graduated first in his class of 1952.


Upon graduating from law school, Rehnquist accepted a judicial clerkship with Associate Justice Robert H. Jackson on the Supreme Court. As a clerk, Rehnquist wrote a memorandum for Justice Jackson as the Court was preparing to consider Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the case that eventually held racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. The memorandum argued that Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which had approved segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine, was rightly decided and should be followed in Brown.

In 1953 Rehnquist married Natalie Cornell. This marriage lasted until Natalie’s death in 1991 and produced three children: James, Janet, and Nancy. Rehnquist and his wife moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he practiced law from 1953 until 1969. Once Kleindienst was in this position, he found a place for Rehnquist in the Nixon administration as deputy attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel of the Justice Department in 1969. Two years later, in September 1971, Justice John Marshall Harlan retired from the Court, giving Nixon the chance to make his fourth and last appointment to the Supreme Court. He chose William Rehnquist. Although the nomination met stiff resistance in the Senate, Rehnquist was confirmed by a vote of 68-26 on December 10, 1971. He thus began a career on the Court that would extend into the 21st century.

In summer 1986 Chief Justice Warren E. Burger announced his intent to retire from the Court after 17 years of service. President Ronald Reagan promptly nominated Associate Justice William Rehnquist to become the Court’s 16th chief justice. Confirmation debates in the Senate reprised those that had occurred 15 years earlier, on Rehnquist’s original nomination to the Court. Finally, he was confirmed as chief justice by a vote of 65-13. He assumed his new office on September 26, 1986, the date Warren Burger formally retired from the Court.

Rehnquist was soon joined on the Court by two justices arguably even more conservative than he: Antonin Scalia, appointed by President Reagan to fill the position of associate justice that Rehnquist had vacated to become chief; and Clarence Thomas, appointed by President George H. W. Bush in 1991. No longer the principal conservative spokesman on the Court, Chief Justice Rehnquist seems to have paid more attention to the work of developing widespread agreement on important cases. Before he assumed the Court’s chief seat, he had praised one of his predecessors, Charles Evans Hughes, for his efforts to build public confidence in the Court by seeking to present a uniform voice whenever possible, even when it meant resisting the urge to write dissenting opinions.



He became active in Republican party politics in Phoenix and campaigned for Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate in the 1964 elections. His political activity brought him into contact with another Phoenix lawyer, Richard Kleindienst, who eventually became deputy attorney general under President Richard Nixon.

Rehnquist’s conservative credentials were solidly in place before he advanced to the Court, and they did not waver after he arrived. In his early years on the Court, although he was the fourth Nixon appointee, he sometimes found himself the only justice of this group to carry the conservative vanguard in dissent. Most conspicuously, he alone of the Nixon appointees dissented from the Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade (1973), recognizing a constitutional right of abortion. He was joined in that dissent by Justice Byron White, who had been appointed, curiously enough, by President John F. Kennedy. The same year, when the Court in Frontiero v. Richardson (1973) found that a federal law discriminated on the basis of gender by providing extra benefits to male members of the armed forces, Rehnquist dissented as well, this time alone.

Sometimes the other Nixon appointees joined Rehnquist in dissents, such as when Chief Justice Burger and Associate Justices Harry Blackmun and Lewis Powell dissented together with Rehnquist in Furman v. Georgia (1972), which temporarily invalidated the use of the death penalty as so arbitrary as to violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.” But overall, Rehnquist outstripped the other Nixon appointees in his willingness to challenge what he viewed as overly broad readings of constitutional protections. Nixon, forced from office himself as a result of his role in the Watergate scandal, left no surer legacy on the Court than William Rehnquist.

As the 1970s progressed, Justice Rehnquist proved more successful in marshaling the Court’s other nominally conservative justices in his campaign to revisit the relationship between states and the national government in the federal system. Prior to 1937, the Supreme Court had regularly rebuffed congressional attempts to regulate matters deemed by the Court to be properly within the province of states. But beginning in 1937, with the threat of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “courtpacking” plan, the Supreme Court abandoned this constitutional posture and gave a free rein to federal laws seeking to regulate a variety of economic and social matters. Rehnquist authored the Court’s opinion in National League of Cities v. Usery (1976), which briefly reinvigorated the constitutional boundaries between states and the national government by holding that Congress had no authority to make certain minimum wage and maximum hour requirements of federal law applicable to state and municipal employees. Slightly less than a decade later, a new majority on the Court overruled National League of Cities. But in the 1990s, after Rehnquist became chief justice, he led the Court to other challenges of federal power over states.


American Bar Association, American Judicature Society, etc.


In 1953 Rehnquist married Natalie Cornell. This marriage lasted until Natalie’s death in 1991 and produced three children: James, Janet, and Nancy.

William Benjamin Margery


Natalie Cornell

James Rehnquist

Janet Rehnquist

Nancy Rehnquist