Search Form
First, enter a politician or zip code
Now, choose a category

Public Statements

Honoring and Recognizing the Distinguished Service, Career, and Achievements of Chief Justice William Hubbs Rehnquist Upon His Death

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. BERMAN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, today I rise to celebrate the life of Chief Justice Rehnquist. Justice Rehnquist was devoted to the highest Court of the land and, more broadly, to our system of justice; and throughout his long tenure, he served them both admirably. During his 33 years on the Court, 19 of which were as Chief Justice, he chartered a definitive path which reflected his philosophy and left an unquestionable impact on the direction of the Court.

In his early years on the Court, at a time when his approach to constitutional interpretation often was not shared by a majority on the Court, Justice Rehnquist stuck closely to his principles, earning him the moniker ``The Lone Ranger.'' Over time, he was joined by other Justices who shared his ideology, and he was able to craft majorities that moved the Court towards adopting his vision of the law. To his great credit, when faced with a conflict between his own strongly held position and the dictates of stare decisis, as happened with recent efforts to limit the Miranda decision, he frequently sided with precedent.

While it is fair to say that over the years on decisions which have split the Court, I have probably disagreed with Chief Justice Rehnquist's opinions more often than I have agreed with them; however, I have admired many of his efforts to protect the independence of the judiciary and his willingness to criticize his own party.

Chief Justice Rehnquist often stated his discomfort with Congress encroaching on a court's prerogative in an attempt to guard judicial independence. He lashed out at those attempting to impeach judicial activists and threaten judges for rulings they did not like. ``The Constitution protects judicial independence not to benefit judges but to promote the rule of law. Judges are expected to administer the law fairly, without regard to public reaction,'' he once said.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist also criticized Congress for repeatedly enacting Federal criminal laws that overlap State laws. The States have the primary role in the area of crime and law enforcement, he said in his annual message on the judiciary, and Congress needs to think twice before turning ``every highly publicized societal ill or sensational crime'' into a new Federal law. ``The trend to federalize crimes that traditionally have been handled in State courts not only is taxing the judiciary's resources,'' he said, ``but it also threatens to change entirely the nature of the Federal system. Federal courts were not created to adjudicate local crimes, no matter how sensational or heinous the crimes may be. State courts do, can, and should handle such problems.''

The impact of Congress having relegated more complex and time-consuming cases appropriate for State court adjudication to Federal jurisdiction, such as Congress did with class action reform, warranted Rehnquist's rebuke: ``Congress should commit itself to conserving the Federal courts as a distinctive judicial forum of limited jurisdiction in our system of federalism. Civil and criminal jurisdiction should be assigned to the Federal courts only to further clearly define national interests, leaving to the State courts the responsibility for adjudicating all other matters. This long-range plan for Federal courts is based not simply on the preferences of Federal judges but on the traditional principle of federalism that has guided this country throughout its existence.''

As noted by the New York Times, Chief Justice Rehnquist was also duly critical of hastily enacted limitations on judicial sentencing decisions and the potential damage that compiling information on the sentencing habits of individual judges could do to fair and impartial justice. Chief Justice Rehnquist plainly saw his role as defender in chief of the Nation's independent court system, which he famously called ``one of the crown jewels of our system of government.''

His often practical approach to immeasurably weighty responsibility of having one out of nine votes on the most powerful Court in the country reflected his devotion and respect for the institution of the Supreme Court and its effect on the lives of all Americans. Nowhere did Justice Rehnquist's love for the Court shine through more than in his numerous books on Supreme Court history and lore.

Chief Justice Rehnquist also displayed considerable skill in managing an often divided Court. His colleagues have spoken of his deft ability, good humor, and impartiality as he led the Court through landmark cases. On top of this, he served for nearly 2 decades as the chief judicial officer of the Nation's Federal court system, constantly advocating for the resources needed to improve the courts' mission of delivering evenhanded justice throughout the Nation.

I would commend to my colleagues the op-ed piece in the New York Times yesterday by Laurence Tribe, a frequent litigator in the Supreme Court who argued many, many cases, who speaks of Chief Justice Rehnquist's career there and finds many, many reasons to praise and admire him. He closes his article urging that as the Senate now considers the confirmation of a new Chief Justice, they look to one of the issues that he felt Chief Justice Rehnquist so ably stood for and that is the ability of new Justices to help the Court earn the respect of all who take part in its proceedings or are affected by its rulings, which means everyone. ``Chief Justice Rehnquist,'' Professor Tribe noted, ``was a master at that mission. For that, and for the steadiness of his leadership, I will always remember him with profound gratitude and admiration.''

We are all saddened by the loss of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. As we mourn his death, regardless of our political differences, we must remember how he selflessly gave to the Court and the Nation. His work is an important legacy that impacts every American's life and will shape the lives of future generations. I join the Nation in applauding his accomplishments, and I express my sympathy for our collective loss.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. BERMAN. Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.


Skip to top

Help us stay free for all your Fellow Americans

Just $5 from everyone reading this would do it.

Back to top