On one hand one feels badly for the illness and eventual death of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. On the other hand, it is the end of one of the worst chapters in American law, where the Supreme Court was routinely abused by Rehnquist to promote his own politicial views, and a close reading of the Constitution or Bill Of Rights was routinely ignored. This was hardly a period of any judicial brilliance, but rather a period of right wing judicial activism.
From often a lonely vote of often goofy dissent, Rehnquist's vote gradually grew on the court as more far right justices like Scalia and Thomas joined the court, gradually building a far right majority of 5-4 on many issues.
On one case Rehnquist decided that even though an attorney for a client on death row had presented last minute late evidence that probably proved the innocence of the client that should have allowed for a new trial, Rehnquist decided that new information was not presented in a more timely manner, and the client should suffer the death penalty anyway. And Rehnquist even noted that client may very well have been innocent of the crime charged, yet wrote the decision allowing for the execution of a man that Rehnquist thought may be innocent of the crime. For Rehnquist, some state evidence deadline was far more important than the fact the man on death row was probably innocent and falsely convicted and about to face execution.
In the 1990 case of Dowling v. United States, Rehnquist sided with the 6-3 majority that decided that a Federal law allowing evidence of a previous trial in which the defendant was acquitted on all counts could be used to help identify the defendant and charge and convict them of another crime using evidence identical to the case in which they were acquitted. Previous rulings related to double jeopardy did not allow this standard.
In Maryland v. Buie, a 7-2 majority with Rehnquist siding in decided a "protective sweep" of a residence could be used to gather evidence by a search of other rooms and areas not covered in an arrest warrant.
In the case of Illinois v. Perkins, a 7-1 majority with Rehnquist in concurrence, decided that police may pose as a fellow inmate to secure a confession and seek evidence and a Miranda notice does not have to be given.
Certainly being tough on crime is one thing, but many rulings that Rehnquist were involved in involve a chipping down of civil liberties that harm all Americans. On Michigan Department Of Police v . Sitz, Rehnquist was part of a majority that decided that police roadblocks could be used to stop all motorists, even though not suspected of any crime, and police could use the roadblock to look for evidence of any crime, including drunk driving.
There were many areas not involving criminal cases in which Rehnquist made an ugly mark on the court and the legal environment.
Even though it was known that Rehnquist supported the racist segregationist standard of "seperate but equal" for education of young Black students, Rehnquist was both nominated for the court by Nixon and confirmed by the Senate. As a justice, Rehnquist continued this racist legacy by weakening the Brown v. Board Of Education ruling by cutting back on enforcement of desegregation, weakened the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, and hurt the goals of Affirmative Action by limiting the ability of minorities to better themselves.
In the area of States Rights, Rehnquist limited the ability of citizen legal actions against a state that blantantly disregards Federal law. And other cases protected outrageous local or state laws that were in conflict with Federal law.
In the case of Bush v. Gore, Rehnquist and the 5-4 majority did not indicate any constitutional support for their decision claiming that equal protection was violated and allowing the stop to a recount in a Florida county that impacted the outcome of the 2000 Presidential election. Al Gore had won the national popular vote by 500,000 votes but scored a narrow 500 vote loss Florida, and thus in the electoral college, and this loss was made more questionable because of ballot problems in Florida where many older voters mistakening ly voted for two candidates due to the wording and layout of the ballot. In 1972, thousands of voters in Arizona mistakeningly voted for both Richard Nixon and Linda Jenness, the Socialist Worker's Party candidate, and a judge was forced to rule that both votes should be counted because of the confused ballot status.
Despite laws against political activity or interference in the election process, supporters of Bush held a noisy demonstration that interferred and created a stop to a recount in a Florida county that was mandated by a Florida State Supreme Court ruling, and the Supreme Court case halted any recount efforts and made Bush president, although he lost the national popular vote. Rehnquist supported "State's Rights" when it weakened Federal law or individual rights, but opposed the Florida Supreme Court when it violated his own support for George Bush. And Justice Thomas's own family was involved in the Bush efforts, yet Thomas did not recuse himself from involvement in the case. There was no intent to fairly decide this case. It was a mere rubber stamp for the politics of Rehnquist.
In other cases, such as Freedom Of Expression, Rehnquist has consistently sided with government controls on free speech that clearly violate the clear language of the Bill Of Rights that specially does not allow for any controls on speech no matter how tasteless or offensive, and specifically the wording not allowing any such laws by "Congress" to restrain such speech. Rehnquist consistently voted his own political leanings, rather than relied on the Constitution or the Bill Of Rights for guidence on his decisions. This is merely right wing judicial activism.
One feels very sad and sorry for the family of Mr. Rehnquist. Yet his rulings had a rotten impact on America. He was not a brilliant justice by any means. He merely used the court to rubber stamp his own political leanings into law regardless of whether constitutional support could be found or not. That is hardly the role of a fair and impartial judge, who fairly rules on cases. Without a doubt the Rehnquist legacy was indeed a rotten one. Rehnquist should never had been nominated to court, let alone made Chief Justice. Next to Watergate, Rehnquist's nomination to the court rated as one of Nixon's worst acts in office.