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William Rehnquist

From the Bench: The Constitutional Statesmanship of Chief Justice William Rehnquist

Few justices in history have had as much impact as has William H. Rehnquist, the 16th chief justice of the Supreme Court, argued Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the US Court of Appeals, DC Circuit, in his Walter Berns Annual Constitution Day address. Serving the Supreme Court over 33 years, 15 as chief justice, Chief Justice Rehnquist was at the helm of major national events, presiding over the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton and keeping the Court intact during perhaps the single-most controversial moment in Supreme Court history, Bush v. Gore.

He was a scholar and a jurist and brought about a massive change in constitutional law and how we think about the Constitution, with an especially enduring impact on American law regarding criminal procedure, religion, federalism, unenumerated rights, and administrative law. Chief Justice Rehnquist sought to alter the debate about the proper role of judges and strove to make the Supreme Court more of an institution of law, where the Court’s power is to interpret and apply the law as written, informed by historical practice and not by its own personal and policy predilections. At his death, The New York Times said Chief Justice Rehnquist had “one of the most consequential tenures of Supreme Court history.”