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Thomas Baker, Law professor, Florida International University Administrative assistant to Rehnquist, 1986 term I served as his acting administrative assistant for only a brief time, but it was immediately after his confirmation to chief justice, so it was an historic time. I saw him as a big intellectual, and my expectation was that he would be principally occupied with the work of the Court and writing opinions, but he took to the administrative duties remarkably well. He was very efficient and could be impatient with staff at times. I don’t think he appreciated how much smarter he was than the people around him. But he was the best boss I ever had. The first time I met him was before I worked for him. I was a fellow for Chief Justice Warren Burger, and Justice Rehnquist was a luncheon guest for a gathering of White House and judicial fellows. We were in one of those cavernous offices, and there must have been 30 people packed around a big mahogany table. We started by going around the table and everyone said a little bit about themselves. Then Justice Rehnquist gave his talk, and afterwards we had a Q&A session. Every time someone raised his or her hand, he remembered the person’s name and a little bit about what they had done previously. It was uncanny. The first few times it seemed like some sort of a parlor trick, but it really showed the power of his mind, his intellect and his memory. The year that I was administrative assistant, I remember being at a Court’s Christmas party. The Chief loved parties and he loved music. We had a Ukrainian folk choir at that party, and the noise of the crowd just kept rising and drowning them out. So Justice Scalia walks over to the microphone and asks everybody to come to order and listen to the group perform. The noise level rose again, and Scalia went back over to the microphone and said something. When the noise level went back up, Chief Justice Rehnquist walked over to the mic and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I want absolute silence.” This is the Supreme Court Christmas party, so the attorney general is there and all sort of ambassadors and big shots in the administration. But after that, there was no problem. I am sure he will go down in history as one of the three most influential chief justices of all time. John Marshall created the American constitutional tradition out of whole cloth. The Warren Court and the Rehnquist Court pursued alternative visions of that tradition. Future courts and future chiefs will be judged against them.
Robert Bennett, partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom Friend and poker partner I have known the Chief for about 30 years. What I remember most about him was that he was without any pretense. He never thought of himself as a big shot and treated everyone with kindness and respect. One only has to look at the family photographs taken by my wife, Ellen, to see the love he had for his family and they for him. One of my favorite stories about him was when I was the president of the Assistant United States Attorneys’ Association and invited him to be our dinner speaker. At the time, Bill was on the Supreme Court for only a few months. I asked him what was the biggest difference in his life, now that he was on the Court. He said, “Bob, whenever I say something now people say ‘how interesting’ and ‘how profound.’ Six months ago they either ignored what I said or said I was crazy.” I will miss the Chief but will have more money in my pocket given he was a great poker player.
Susan Low Bloch, Law professor, Georgetown University Law Center Supreme Court law clerk, 1976 term People are familiar with the formal, dignified side of William Rehnquist, but there was also a more casual, fun-loving side. When I was clerking for Justice Thurgood Marshall in the 1976 term, there was a custom of law clerks taking other justices to lunch. My co-clerks and I took Justice Rehnquist out and had a delightful lunch — with no hint of the fact that our chamber frequently disagreed with Justice Rehnquist’s views. William Rehnquist could separate the professional from the personal. Justice Rehnquist also loved to sing and to lead songfests for the December holidays, judicial conferences and any other occasion he could find. It was no surprise to learn that the four gold stripes he added to his otherwise plain black judicial robe were inspired by the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta “Iolanthe.” William Rehnquist was judicially conservative and socially affable; he was, in short, a man for all seasons. He will be missed by all Americans — whatever their political views.
Judge David Campbell, U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona Rehnquist law clerk, 1981 term He changed my life. The opportunity of being a Supreme Court law clerk opens doors for you. Working with him made me a better lawyer and a better person. I learned how to think hard, write clearly, work efficiently. I also learned from him and his example that position and prestige don’t matter and that the trappings that sometimes attend important positions don’t count for very much. He didn’t place a lot of stock in them. He was a humble, down-to-earth individual. I’m in a different position as a trial judge, but I do think about things I saw from him in terms of his love for the law, his fairness, his efficiency, the way he treated people around him. When I first met him, when I went back for my interview, I was thoroughly intimidated at even walking into the Supreme Court building. I waited for a few minutes in his main office, and he walked briskly out of his office, shook my hand and said, “Hi. I’m Bill Rehnquist.” We proceeded to have the most delightful conversation. He was very engaging, and I remember being surprised during the interview that I wasn’t nervous. It wasn’t like a job interview. I think that was typical of the way he dealt with people. He was pleasant and genial with everyone he met. When we were working on a case, he wouldn’t have us go through the formality of preparing memos. Instead, he would have us go for a walk around the block or come into his office and talk about the case. During one of those early conversations, I remembered a particular Supreme Court decision. He stood up from the table, reached up, pulled a specific volume from his shelf and opened it right to the case. He said, “I thought I remembered this.” I remember thinking, boy, that must be his favorite case. I bet he did that 30 times while I was working there. He had a phenomenal ability to remember everything he encountered in his life. After I was made a judge, I was back in Washington for a meeting. Two of my co-clerks, who had also been made federal judges, and I took him to lunch. We had clerked for him 25 to 30 years ago, and as we sat at lunch he started describing things that happened in our personal lives during the time we were there. I was astonished that he was able to remember it.
R. Ted Cruz, Solicitor general of Texas Rehnquist law clerk, 1996 term The Chief was brilliant, with a memory unlike anyone else. He’d routinely amaze his clerks by quizzing them on the exact citation to some case or other. The clerks would, of course, never know the cite, and, off the top of his head, the Chief always would. He was unbelievably efficient. He’d read through dozens of briefs in a couple of hours and then walk around outside the Court building with his law clerks, discussing the cases down to the tiniest footnote. He’d finish his opinions before anyone else and then express dismay at some of his colleagues’ slower progress. “What on earth are they doing?” he would wonder out loud. Personally, he was completely down-to-earth. Never pretentious, he knew everyone’s name on the entire Court staff, and cared about them personally. He loved to laugh — even at himself — and always had a ready quip. Because of his own humility, he had little patience for putting on airs. When one law clerk asked him how he went about choosing law clerks, the Chief replied, “Well, I obviously wasn’t looking for the best and the brightest or I wouldn’t have chosen you guys.” Himself a former law clerk, he had no grand illusions about the job. He loved sports and games. He’d wager on everything — football, baseball, election results — almost always for a single dollar. Every year, at the law clerk reunion, we’d play croquet. He played to win. Once, he made the mistake of picking me as his croquet partner; given my pitiful performance, that was an error he did not repeat. After my first argument at the Court — a case at the outer boundaries of federalism which, alas, resulted in a 9-0 drubbing — he and I had tea. Since the opinion had already been issued, I asked his thoughts. He replied, “They say for your first argument you should pick a case you can’t lose or can’t win … . I think you chose wisely.” He was a good and decent man, and a great chief justice.
Richard Garnett, Law professor, University of Notre Dame Rehnquist law clerk, 1996 term The last time I spoke with the Chief, in person, was a little over a year ago. I was in Washington, D.C., on business, and the Chief made time for us to have sandwiches together in his chambers. We talked about my students, my children, the legal profession, Duke basketball and the then upcoming 2004 elections. Before I left, I was able to tell him how grateful I was to him for bringing me into his chambers family, for helping me to become a better lawyer and citizen, for opening so many doors for me and for inspiring me to try to be a good father. I told him — and I know this made him happy — that my life is a good one; that my wife and I have managed to find a workable balance among family, friends, work, faith and community; and that I believe I owe a great deal of my happiness to him. I’m confident that the “legacy” he would like to have — and that, in my life, he will have — is not only that he was a good steward to the Court, and transformed constitutional law, but also that he reminded lawyers that lawyering is an enjoyable, rewarding, learned profession, and that lawyers should be happy they are blessed enough to take part in it.
David Leitch, Vice president and general counsel, Ford Motor Co. Rehnquist law clerk, 1986 term The Chief lived life to the fullest. He was not consumed by work but rather fit work into the whole of his life. It didn’t hurt that he was the most efficient and smartest person one could imagine, but he took full advantage of those skills to enjoy family, friends, games, books and all the things that make life enjoyable. A particular love of the Chief’s was wagering — not high stakes, by any means, but just for the sport of it. A memorable wager during my clerkship took place in January 1987, as weather forecasters called for a massive snowstorm to hit Washington, D.C. These predictions permitted the Chief to combine his love of wagers with his keen interest in weather (he’d served as a meteorologist in World War II). He organized two betting pools — one in his chambers and one among the members of the Court — on the amount of snow that would fall on the Supreme Court plaza by 10 a.m. the next day. The next day happened to be January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade as well as a Thursday, our usual doubles tennis day at the Haines Point bubble. Just before we were to leave for tennis, we trudged out to the plaza, with ruler and tennis rackets in hand, to measure the snow. Photographers gathering to record protesters snapped a shot of me measuring the snowfall, which appeared in the next day’s Washington Post. My co-clerk, Bill Lindsay, won the chambers pool, and Justice Powell won the Conference pool. There was nothing profound about this wager — just the chief justice of the United States making life fun and memorable for young, impressionable lawyers who were fortunate enough to have been asked to work for him.
Frank Lorson U.S. Supreme Court, chief deputy clerk, 1981-2002 There are a lot of duties only the chief justice has responsibility for. The chief justice heads the Federal Judiciary Center. He is chancellor of the Smithsonian. He sits on the board of the National Gallery of Art. He appoints judges to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Whenever there was an item that required approval from the chief justice, I would prepare a memo. It would have to be a one-page memo, because he liked things to be concise. At the bottom I would include boxes for approved or not approved, proceed or do not proceed. All he would have to do would be check and initial it. I’d send the memo to the Chief, and before I turned around it was back on my desk. He wasn’t one who let things drag on. He worked fast and he expected everyone else to work fast. If he wanted something done, he would set a deadline and he expected it to be done. There would be no excuse. He knew everybody by first name. When he got on the elevator he would always speak to the elevator operator by name. And if some event happened in the elevator operator’s life, like the birth of a grandchild, he would remember to ask about it. At the end of the Court term there would be a law clerk reception, and Chief Justice Rehnquist would supervise a “Jeopardy!” competition. There were always three teams: Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness. He made up the questions and he was the moderator. There was no pomposity to the man.
Herman Schwartz, Law professor, American University Editor of The Rehnquist Court and author of Right Wing Justice: The Conservative Campaign to Take Over the Courts Chief Justice William Rehnquist may have been a strong defender of judicial independence, but he was an enemy of almost every effort to bring “liberty and justice for all” a little closer. From his early days as a law clerk, when he advised Justice Robert Jackson that “ Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be re-affirmed,” throughout his years in private practice, while serving the Nixon administration, in lone dissent on the far right of a largely conservative Supreme Court, to his ultimate triumph in the last 15 years (and despite occasional losses, he did triumph), he opposed almost every effort to end social injustice. Whatever the context — race, social welfare legislation, poverty, aliens, out-of-wedlock children, reproductive rights, gay rights, disability rights, access to the courts, criminal justice, prisons, government surveillance — he fought to deny the right at issue. Rarely did he support the weak against the strong, the have-nots against the haves. That is his legacy.
Deanell Tacha, chief judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, Lawrence, Kan. We talked on occasion about his interest in geography. He was interested in conflicts between the states over various rivers, and I told him that in Kansas we call the Arkansas River the Ar-KANSAS River. When he announced an opinion from the bench on that issue, he said that in Kansas they pronounce it the Ar-KANSAS River. I got a kick out of that. He always loved sing-alongs at the meetings he would attend — the old patriotic songs, the Western songs, the hymns, all of it. My observation was that he was a great jurist, a profound intellectual, but also that he taught me so much about careful leadership and how to bring out the best in people. He would always ask about family and your other activities, but it wasn’t just making small talk; it was a lesson in balanced leadership. He was so kind and gentle, and so humble. I once just totally forgot to tell him something that I thought was important for him to know, so I made an appointment with him and confessed. He grinned and said, “Deanell, usually you get an A; this time it’s a B+.” He had a wonderful sense of humor.
Seth Waxman, partner, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr Solicitor general, 1997-2001 The first time I met the Chief was shortly after I had become solicitor general. I had spent a year arguing cases in front of the Court as deputy, and I was told that it was tradition for the solicitor general to pay a courtesy call on the chief justice before the term started. In my first conversation ever with William Rehnquist, he said, “My colleagues and I have really enjoyed hearing you argue cases, but we don’t really know very much about you.” I was feeling very insecure and I said, “Well, Chief, I’ve never been a law professor or an appeals court judge.” He looked up and said, “I think I can speak on behalf of all of my colleagues when I say Thank God.” The Chief certainly knew how to ask a pointed question. What I thought was remarkable was that he also knew how to take an answer, even if it wasn’t what he wanted to hear. He was a judge who was frank and who valued frankness in advocacy. The inability to impress him with citations to scholarly authorities was legendary. If you wanted to make a point with the Chief, just about the last thing you would do would be cite a law review article or a treatise. He made very plain his view that judges make law and scholars write articles to make sense of what judges do. I have a sense he believed that a judge who was persuaded by something a scholar had written had it exactly backwards. I have argued before the Court 46 times, and I’ve never argued in any other court other than the Court of William Rehnquist. I can’t say I really had a personal relationship with him, but I will miss him a lot. He was a very gracious, really decent human being.
Diego D’Ambrosio, owner Diego’s Hair Salon, Washington, D.C. I began cutting Justice Rehnquist’s hair 25 years ago, because I cut Warren Burger’s before that. At first, Rehnquist came by Metro. He would come every two weeks or three weeks for a haircut and greet me in Italian: “Buon giorno, Diego. Come stai?” He was great as a customer and as a friend. He would talk to everybody in the shop. Very friendly to everyone. He would drink espresso with us. I’m not a lawyer, but sometimes he would ask me for advice. He would say, “I’m in your chair now, Diego, but if you were in my chair, what would you do?” One time he invited me to watch a case. Before it started, we talked politics for 45 minutes. I watched the arguments, and afterward he asked me what I thought. I told him, “Those three people are going to jail.” They did! He sent me a copy of the decision that he signed ( Maryland v. Pringle). Last year he came in and his voice was, you know, rough. He said he had a cold. I told his driver he should see a doctor. He was in the hospital right after that. While he was sick I went to his house a few times to cut his hair, and then I cut his hair at the Court. You could see he was sick, but not his mind. And in June, when everyone was predicting he would resign, I knew different. You know why? Because I asked him if my son Marco could visit the Court, and he said, “When we come back in October, Marco can come in.” The remembrances above were collected by Legal Times reporters Vanessa Blum and Tony Mauro.

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