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Honoring Chief Justice William Rehnquist

Location: Washington, DC

HONORING CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAM REHNQUIST -- (House of Representatives - September 07, 2005)

The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Kirk). Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 4, 2005, the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Carter) is recognized for 60 minutes as the designee of the majority leader.

Mr. CARTER. Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the recognition, and I rise this evening to discuss a man and a history on the bench, judicial bench, that probably will be recorded as one of the great careers in the legal profession in the history of the United States. I am referring to Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Today we laid to rest Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who has served this country and served it well for many, many years. Justice Rehnquist is going to be sorely missed by the citizens of this country. His wisdom and his leadership and his all-around ability to unite and work with every faction of the Supreme Court has been an inspiration to all of the citizens of this country.

He served tirelessly with great wisdom, judgment, and leadership. He leaves behind a legacy as one of the most influential Chief Justices in our Nation's history; and today, in sadness, we bid him farewell, and we say to Justice Rehnquist, job well done.

A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, William Rehnquist grew up in the nearby suburb of Shorewood. His father, the son of Swedish immigrant parents, worked as a paper salesman, and his mother as a multilingual professional translator.

I come from a part of Texas which has a large Swedish heritage, and I am sure that Justice Rehnquist got his base principles established by that Swedish heritage that he grew up in.

After service in World War II with the Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1946, and with the assistance of the GI Bill, Rehnquist earned bachelor's and master's degrees in political science from Stanford University, finishing in 1948. In 1950 he received a master's degree in government from Harvard. Rehnquist later returned to Stanford University to attend law school, where he graduated first in his class in 1952, even ahead of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, currently serving on the Court. He also served as the editor of the Law Review.

Rehnquist served as a law clerk for Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson both in 1951 and 1952. Following his clerkship, he settled in Phoenix, Arizona, where he was in private practice from 1953 to 1969.

In 1964 he also served as a legal advisor to the Barry Goldwater Presidential campaign.

When President Nixon was elected in 1968, Rehnquist returned to Washington, D.C. to serve as Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel. In this position Rehnquist served as the chief legal counsel to the Attorney General. He served as Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel until 1971, when President Nixon nominated him to replace John Marshall Harlan on the Supreme Court.

During his time in the Court, Chief Justice Rehnquist authored countless landmark decisions and thought-provoking dissents. He carefully reasoned his opinions and insisted that the principle of federalism is an integral part of our Nation's constitutional structure. His opinions recognized that our government is one of enumerated rights and dual sovereignty, with certain functions and powers left to the States.

His jurisprudence has shown that the first amendment establishment clause does not dictate government hostility toward religion. Rather, the government should act in a manner which respects our freedom to worship as we please, neither favoring nor disfavoring religion.

The last 19 years have shown that Chief Justice Rehnquist was a terrific choice to lead the Supreme Court. Though some of his colleagues on the Court disagreed with him at times, there is no doubt that they admired his strong leadership and his likable personality and his ability to build a consensus. While always a forceful advocate for his views, the Chief Justice consistently strove for consensus on the Court and treated his colleagues with courtesy and respect.

It is thanks to his personal attributes that even in an age of 5 to 4 decisions, the Court never descended into bitter infighting. Instead, Justice Rehnquist led a court united by friendship, committed to the law and service to our country.

One example of Chief Justice Rehnquist's commitment to the law is his opinion in Dickerson v. The United States. Although a long-time critic of Miranda v. Arizona, Rehnquist nevertheless placed his past position aside and wrote an opinion in Dickerson effectively affirming Miranda.

In 1999 Justice Rehnquist lent his services to the Senate when he became only the second Chief Justice in history to preside over a Presidential impeachment in the trial of President Clinton. During that difficult time, with the Nation and some of its Senators locked in partisan struggle, the Chief Justice's very presence reminded us of the solemn legal duties the constitution requires of the Senate.

A historian of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Rehnquist, had authored three books on the history of the Court and the American legal system.

As Chief Justice, Mr. Rehnquist led not only the Supreme Court but the entire third branch of government. In that role he was an eloquent advocate for a strong and independent judiciary. In his annual reports on the judiciary and other public pronouncements, Chief Justice Rehnquist championed the interest of the judicial branch, earning praise from judges of all jurisdictional stripes.

At all times Chief Justice Rehnquist performed his duties of office with nobility and courage. Even in his recent sickness, he found the strength to administer the oath of office to President Bush and to consider the challenging cases that came before the Court.

Peggy Noonan wrote of President Bush's inauguration, ``And the most poignant moment was the manful William Rehnquist, unable to wear a tie and making his way down the long marble steps to swear in the President. The continuation of democracy is made possible by such gallantry.''

Our Nation is deeply indebted to William Rehnquist. Above all, the rule of law was paramount for Chief Justice Rehnquist. He understood that our government cannot survive without a judiciary that places the rule of law above politics.

Justice Rehnquist has tirelessly served our Nation for the last 3 decades, and he serves a permanent legacy as one of the great Supreme Court Justices. The next Chief Justice will surely have big shoes to fill.

At this time, Mr. Speaker, I would like to yield as much time as he wishes to consume to my colleague, the gentleman from Arizona (Mr. Franks).


Mr. CARTER. Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that very well-presented picture of this great man that we are talking about here tonight.

The gentleman is right. There was a time when William Rehnquist stood alone for the rule of law and a strict interpretation of the United States Constitution in a world where lots of people actually made jokes about him, that were of the other persuasion.

To us that are conservatives and respected his intelligence, his wit, and his humor, and his bulldoggedness, he was someone that we respected and we loved because when he got ready to do his job, he did it.

One of the things you can look at is, when your colleagues who disagree with you have comments that are positive about you, I think that speaks a lot about not only his ability to stand his ground but his ability to stand it with grace as a man who demanded and received respect because of his behavior and because of the way he handled himself.

Now, Chief Justice William Brennan is well known for the way he uses certain language. I am going to read a quote from Justice Brennan, and some of it is a little rough, but I think we will enjoy it. He is talking about Justice Rehnquist.

``He is just a breath of fresh air. He is so damn personable. He lays his position out, casts his vote. You know exactly where he stands on every goddamn case. And he's meticulously fair in assigning opinions. I can't begin to tell you how much better all of us feel and how fond all of us are of him personally.'' That is a quote from Justice Brennan.

Another of his colleagues, Justice Louis Powell said, ``In many ways he is the best-educated person I have ever worked with, very familiar with the classics. He'll quote them with confidence. Everybody agrees generally, I suppose, that he's brilliant, but he has a good sense of humor and he is very generous and he is principled.''

Former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said, ``Rehnquist is a great Chief Justice.''

All these people were people on the other side of most of the issues with William Rehnquist, and yet they speak of him as a colleague that they highly respect and they believe he handled himself very well.

As we are talking about colleagues that we respect, I see that we are joined today by the gentleman from east Texas (Mr. Gohmert) and also one of my judicial colleagues, coming to this august body from the judiciary of Texas, which is getting to be a habit for quite a bit of our congressmen, and we are glad to have him. I wonder if the gentleman would like to step up and make a statement about the Chief Justice and join in a colloquy about the Chief Justice.


Mr. CARTER. Mr. Speaker, I was thinking back. The gentleman from Texas (Mr. Gohmert) and I both served in the Texas judiciary, and I do not know if you were there at the time or not and if you remember. At one point in my 22 years on the bench this took place, but we had a State judicial conference. Our guest speaker was a very, very personable and intelligent professor of law from the University of Virginia. He actually was smart enough to carry two full days of education for judges by himself, and you have got to be pretty good to do that.

In one of these sessions, he was analyzing the President's Supreme Court, and this was prior to Chief Justice Rehnquist becoming Chief Justice, when he was Justice Rehnquist, and he was talking about the makeup of the United States Supreme Court at that point in time.

He started by tracking the liberals on the Court, which at that time was the vast majority; and he talked about their capabilities and what direction they wanted to take things and all this stuff. Finally he got down and he said those of you who are feeling very depressed because you do not have a liberal bend towards the law, do not lose heart because you have a champion, and he is equal to the task of all those we have just discussed put together in his ability to analyze and take forward his view of the United States Constitution.

He said never sell short William Rehnquist. He knows what he is doing; he knows where he wants to take the law; and he will take it there. And believe me, as long as it is a Republican in office, he should and will be the next Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and at that time he will turn the corner on many of the decisions which we have found to be very strange and not very well directed towards the trial courts and the trial courts' abilities. So do not lose heart. You have a champion and he is a white knight and he will deliver for the conservative view, the rule-of-law view of the Constitution.

He certainly did. Even though he wrote dissents, sometimes those dissents were so telling that they moved the Court slowly. Absolutely a phenomenal intelligence and ability to wordsmith, to word things so that they led us in a direction we needed to go.


Mr. CARTER. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for his comments, and I was thinking as he was speaking, and he gave an excellent presentation of the Chief Justice, but we are joined here in the Chamber today by two men who basically made their entire life a part of dealing in the justice system both as members of the bar, members of the bench, and who also built, basically from scratch, from what I know of both of them, very successful businesses, overcoming insurmountable obstacles. And then, when they had the ability to continue to go out and make those businesses thrive, they volunteered to come to Washington and become a part of the justice system, a part of the legislative branch of our government. This kind of defines the kind of man that Justice Rehnquist personally reached out to, kind of everybody.

He wrote the opinions of those of us who honor our heritage, who honor the language that our forefathers wrote into the Constitution and think that if that is what it says, that is what it says. It does not take a genius to read the paper and say that is what it says. And with all his skill and writing ability, really you can cut it down to the fact that that is the way he looked at it. He said, Wait a minute, let us read the Constitution. That is what it says. It speaks volumes that Justice Rehnquist was able to do that in such a talented manner and in such a manner that challenged legal scholars across the country.

One of his opponents from Harvard University made a comment about him, something to the effect that no matter what you thought of him, whether you agreed with his ideology, he said, I have to give Rehnquist an A. That is the kind of talent that he had. He could take the causes that those of us working in the trenches, the trial judges, and we liked to say there is a difference between trial judges and appellate judges. We shoot from the hip and make those decisions and then they get to grade our papers. Of course, Judge Gohmert has been both, so he has experience in both those areas, but I am just an old trial judge.

Mr. GOHMERT. If the gentleman will yield, I might just say that it is easier to grade papers after people have shot from the hip.

Mr. CARTER. Well, at least you know they are shooting from the hip.


Mr. CARTER. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for his comments, and let me say this. As we discuss Chief Justice Rehnquist and what he has accomplished and the legacy he brings to the United States of America, we are doing this on the very eve of the beginning of the new selection of a Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. It is, I think, appropriate to realize that as Judge Rehnquist was serving 33 years on the highest court in this land, he also was writing history books to record history.

He knew just what my colleague said, the gentleman from Arizona (Mr. Franks), that it is important that we remember the history as it was, not revise it to make it what we want it to be. So he wrote three history books about the Court so we could say, Well, what does history tell us about that event at that time? And so the judge, the great researcher, has given us the research and a direction on the history as it pertains to the Court, something the other justices of the Court that will follow can turn to as additional information to get a picture of where the Court was coming from as it made rulings.

It is very important, and I hope our colleagues in the Senate, as they look at the confirmation of Judge Roberts, I hope that they are looking at the history of the United States Supreme Court and the legacy of William Rehnquist.

Mr. KING of Iowa. Mr. Speaker, there is a point that comes to mind, and I can get it quickly made. This right to privacy that was in the emanation's penumbras, in the shadows, was something that was never recognized by Chief Justice Rehnquist. That right to privacy will be presented to Judge Roberts, and he will be asked. In fact, he will be demanded to recognize that right to privacy as a condition of his confirmation over in the Senate, a very right to privacy that Chief Justice Rehnquist never recognized.

That is how they are going to try to amend the Constitution and the confirmation process over in the Senate. I think it is important to recognize that the legacy of Justice Rehnquist should be preserved in the confirmation process in the Senate as well.

Mr. CARTER. I wonder how you can be unqualified to serve by not recognizing that right, when there are members sitting on the Court at this time who do not recognize that right.

The point of a Supreme Court is that there are multiple points of view, and you should not be requiring only one point of view on the United States Supreme Court. To make a confirmation hearing dependent upon one point of view absolutely flies in the face of justice in America.

Mr. GOHMERT. Mr. Speaker, I appreciated hearing from my colleague from Iowa regarding his saying in elementary school that he wanted to change the government. I think about the example of the emperor who had no clothes, yet all the crowd got swept up in seeing clothes that were not there and saying, Oh, are the clothes not beautiful? They were not there. Chief Justice Rehnquist was one of those if he had to stand alone and say they are not there, there are no clothes, he did it.

Just in conclusion, I think about the end of Frost's poem: Two roads diverged in the woods for Chief Justice Rehnquist many years ago, and he took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. It has, in fact, changed a Nation for the good.

Mr. CARTER. Mr. Speaker, reclaiming my time, I thank the gentleman. One of the downfalls of appearing in the Congress with the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Gohmert) and the gentleman from Arizona (Mr. Franks) and the gentleman from Iowa (Mr. King) is these guys are great in quoting all these things off the top of their head, and that is hard for an old trial judge who is just used to shooting from the hip. I do enjoy the wonderful quotes these guys pull out and quote them right. It is a blessing to have them as Members of our Congress.

Mr. Speaker, you have been very patient today as we honor our passing Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, as we laid him to rest today. We thank you for your patience in allowing us to express our opinions about him.

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