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The Nomination of William Rehnquist to the Supreme Court and the Power of a Supreme Court Chief Justice

Essay by   •  February 17, 2011  •  Essay  •  1,104 Words (5 Pages)  •  1,649 Views

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Established in Article III of the United States constitution, The U.S. Supreme Court is the only federal branch that is comprised of non-elected members. Justices are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of Congress. The court adjudicates cases that arise through U.S. Constitutional issues (as opposed to state issues), U.S. laws and treaties, interstate cases and cases where a state itself or the U.S. is a party in the case. The Supreme Court has both original and appellate jurisdiction. That is, the court hears cases that originated in the Court itself (e.g. cases involving a state), and cases that have passed through other, lower federal courts with one party finding reasons to appeal. The court interprets the Constitution as it applies to a case, and it attempts to make a decision that most benefits the society of the time. This interpretation stands as the law until the court itself reverses it and deems it unconstitutional. As one can see, the court has immense power and influence on the country and public policy. Consequently, the justices that make up the court, as individuals, heavily influence public policy. The court has seen as little as six and as many as ten justices serving at one time, including a Chief Justice. Often viewed as the embodiment of the court, the Chief justice's personality, judicial outlook and intellect can mold the courts image in public opinion and set the tone for what decisions are made and how. Thus, it is no surprise that for the past thirty years, the decisions and preferences of Chief Justice William Rehnquist have shaped the actions of the United States Supreme Court and the law.

William Rehnquist received a law degree from Stanford University's Law School, where he graduated at the top of his class. At his time in law school, Rehnquist was selected for clerkship under Supreme Court Judge Robert H. Jackson. After finishing his clerkship, Rehnquist moved to Arizona where he practiced law as a partner in a law firm. During the presidential election of 1964, Rehnquist became active in the Republican Party and was the lawyer for Republican Presidential Candidate Barry Goldwater. Throughout his law career, Rehnquist always maintained conservative ideologies. When Nixon was later elected P resident, Rehnquist was appointed deputy attorney general in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. William Rehnquist is a highly accomplished individual to say the least. His many achievements worthy of distinction earned him the nomination for Supreme Court Judge by former President Richard Nixon. In 1971, after the retirement of Justice John Marshall Harlan, The Nixon administration nominated Rehnquist as Harlan's replacement.

In his previous efforts to nominate two Supreme Court Justices, Richard Nixon sought to elect southern conservatives. After two failed nominations, which he accredited to an anti-south Democratic Senate, Nixon nominated the most qualified conservative he could find. During the early 1970's, Justices Hugo Black and John Marshall Harlan retired from service on the Supreme Court. With this and the resignation of Justice Abe Fortas, President Nixon, a southern conservative, sought to fill the vacant seats. Two years after his nomination of Harry Blackmun, Nixon sought to take advantage of a second opportunity to fill the remaining vacancies with two more judicial conservatives. Nixon felt the need to nominate a team of two well qualified individuals who would be easily confirmed by the Senate. Nixon's previous attempts to fill the seats failed. The Senate denied the two previous nominees because they were simply unqualified. Thus, in his new search, Nixon was adamant about having extremely well qualified nominees. In one of his many conversations with John Mitchell, President Nixon makes clear the key component of searching for a new Justice. He says, "...But remember let's figure on the Rehnquist thing...The big idea being that we are appointing a highly qualified man. That's really what it gets down to."

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