Sunday, September 4, 2005

Chief Justice Rehnquist passes

The Vietnam War was still going on when William Rehnquist became a Supreme Court Justice, appointed by (Orange County native) Richard Nixon. As part of a conservative shift in the nation's highest court, Reagan tapped the man once called "the Lone Ranger" as America's sixteenth Chief Justice in 1986. Thirteen years later he presided over Bill Clinton's impeachment trial and the next year he ended the counting and recounting of presidential votes in Florida, effectively handing the presidency to George W. Bush.

During his more than three decades on the bench, he "fashioned decisions over the years that diluted the powers of the federal government while strengthening those of the states." He supported some role for religion in public life and he attacked institutions and ideology that "liberals" cherished and fought for, including affirmative action and a woman's right to choose.

His death by cancer at the age of eighty makes this the second opening in the Supreme Court to fill, which could give President Bush a chance to do something his Democratic predecessor didn't have the chance to do: mold the court for decades to come.

The widower of fourteen years was surrounded by his three children when he died in his home in Arlington, Virginia.

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