Last Friday I attended part of The Rehnquist Court: Ten Years Later, presented jointly by the William H. Rehnquist Center on the Constitutional Structures of Government and the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona. I spent a very interesting morning learning about federalism—the relationship between state governments and the federal government—and the role of the Chief Justice of the United States. (No, nothing left out there; the office-holder—all 17, to date, men—is the Chief Justice of the country, not the Court.) I missed afternoon sessions on criminal justice and the First Amendment.
I mention my day because I don’t know how many people appreciate the value associated with having two justices—one the Chief Justice—from a small, western state like Arizona. Chief Justice Rehnquist was on the Court from 1972 until 2005, and was the Chief Justice 1986 until 2005. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor served from 1981 until 2006; thus, for approximately 25 years two of nine justices hailed from Arizona. (By comparison, it’s not infrequent for two or more justices to live in New York, Massachusetts, or Virginia, but the last comparable situation I could find occurred in 1921, when former president William Howard Taft, an Ohio resident, became Chief Justice while fellow Ohioan John Hessin Clarke finished the last year of six years on the Court.
Chief Justice Rehnquist was an active Arizonan. He taught for many years at the law school, visiting Tucson for many Februaries. Justice O’Connor, likewise, was here often, and can be seen from time to time now.
The Rehnquist Center provides leadership on many issues, including separation of powers, federalism, and judicial independence. International law issues get covered too, through the Center’s Sandra Day O’Connor International Judicial Exchange Program. (Yes, Justice O’Connor’s name appears on the law school up north, but that’s another matter for another day.)
The program last Friday drew several federal judges, law professors, and others who spend their time focusing on the Court and constitutional law issues. First-rate learning and, as it happens, free.
In closing, there were plenty of Left-leaners in the room, and several who presented. There were also many Rehnquist law clerks, several of whom lean to the Right. That said, I saw no partisanship at all, even though I know plenty of people had plenty on their minds to disagree about. And that’s the best part of my profession: from time to time we elevate ourselves above the fray, in furtherance of knowledge and understanding.
P.S. I really wrote this post so I could share “Chief Justice Rehnquist on writing”:
Well, it’s just a sense of personal satisfaction. Just like taking a good photograph or painting a picture or playing a good golf game or something, it’s the thing in itself that justifies it.
My sentiments, totally!
Two other things. First, Linda Greenhouse, who has my vote for the very best writer about the Supreme Court, wrote The Supreme Court at Stake for the New York Times on February 5. It’s a complete review of the King v. Burwell matter, and about the dangerous ground on which at least four justices may be walking.
Second, hooray for the Court, for not blocking the order allowing same sex marriages in Alabama!!! Five votes were necessary for a stay, and it looks like there were just two. (Here’s Justice Clarence Thomas’s very unhappy dissent, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia.) It’s hard to imagine a Court majority not staying the Alabama order if there are five votes on the Court against allowing same sex marriage throughout the land!