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The Partisan: The Life of William Rehnquist

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As a young lawyer practicing in Arizona, far from the political center of the country, William Hubbs Rehnquist’s iconoclasm made him a darling of Goldwater Republicans. He was brash and articulate. Although he was unquestionably ambitious and extraordinarily self-confident, his journey to Washington required a mixture of good-old-boy connections and rank good fortune. An outsider and often lone dissenter on his arrival, Rehnquist outlasted the liberal vestiges of the Warren Court and the collegiate conservatism ...

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The Partisan: The Life of William Rehnquist

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Overview

As a young lawyer practicing in Arizona, far from the political center of the country, William Hubbs Rehnquist’s iconoclasm made him a darling of Goldwater Republicans. He was brash and articulate. Although he was unquestionably ambitious and extraordinarily self-confident, his journey to Washington required a mixture of good-old-boy connections and rank good fortune. An outsider and often lone dissenter on his arrival, Rehnquist outlasted the liberal vestiges of the Warren Court and the collegiate conservatism of the Burger Court, until in 1986 he became the most overtly political conservative to sit as chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Over that time Rehnquist’s thinking pointedly did not––indeed, could not––evolve. Dogma trumped leadership. So, despite his intellectual gifts, Rehnquist left no body of law or opinions that define his tenure as chief justice or even seem likely to endure. Instead, Rehnquist bestowed a different legacy: he made it respectable to be an expedient conservative on the Court.

The Supreme Court now is as deeply divided politically as the executive and legislative branches of our government, and for this Rehnquist must receive the credit or the blame. His successor as chief justice, John Roberts, is his natural heir. Under Roberts, who clerked for Rehnquist, the Court remains unrecognizable as an agent of social balance. Gone are the majorities that expanded the Bill of Rights.

The Rehnquist Court, which lasted almost twenty years, was molded in his image. In thirty-three years on the Supreme Court, from 1972 until his death in 2005 at age 80, Rehnquist was at the center of the Court’s dramatic political transformation. He was a partisan, waging a quiet, constant battle to imbue the Court with a deep conservatism favoring government power over individual rights.

The story of how and why Rehnquist rose to power is as compelling as it is improbable. Rehnquist left behind no memoir, and there has never been a substantial biography of him: Rehnquist was an uncooperative subject, and during his lifetime he made an effort to ensure that journalists would have scant material to work with. John A. Jenkins has produced the first full biography of Rehnquist, exploring the roots of his political and judicial convictions and showing how a brilliantly instinctive jurist, who began his career on the Court believing he would only ever be an isolated voice of right-wing objection, created the ethos of the modern Supreme Court.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
Rehnquist's struggle to reshape American law in his and Nixon's image is the central story line of John A. Jenkins's engaging and perceptive biography…
—Adam Cohen
Publishers Weekly
A. Jenkins, editor of CQ Press and a veteran legal journalist, traces the life of William Rehnquist (1924—2005), who was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 by President Nixon and became chief justice in 1986. As Jenkins underscores, Rehnquist's years as chief justice were characterized by a markedly conservative shift in Supreme Court jurisprudence. Jenkins takes the view that Rehnquist was an ideologue rather than a legal scholar and theorist, it his "expedient and unyielding conservatism" most apparent in his view that federalism, the balance between the states and the federal government, had "revolutionary potential" — as potential the authorhe says, has been realized in chief justice Roberts's court. And while Jenkins is an informed and balanced commentator on the politics surrounding presidential appointments to the Court, Rehnquist's legal legacy, and relationships among the justices, he is equally interested in Rehnquist the man—his character, his predilections, his demons. Jenkins offers a mixed but often unflattering view of Rehnquist. There are also revelations for those who have not been Court cognoscenti, foremost among them Rehnquist's long battle with an addiction to prescription pain-killers. In an accessible and satisfying biography, Jenkins finds the right balance between the law and the man, the legal and the human. Agemt: Jane Dystel, Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
John W. Dean, author of The Rehnquist Choice and Nixon White House Counsel
“‘Partisan’ is the perfect title to describe the conservative ideologue who became the 16th Chief Justice of the United States.  And John Jenkins proves himself a perfect biographer in writing the first full non-legalistic look at this reclusive and enigmatic personality who pushed the nation's High Court to the political right. This is an important, engaging and informative read.”

Charles Lewis, Executive Editor, Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University
“THE PARTISAN is a terrific, timely and important book, meticulously researched and enthralling to read. How exactly did a segregationist and mere Assistant Attorney General become a Supreme Court Justice, let alone Chief Justice? John Jenkins' investigative biography is an inspired and authoritative work and a great public service.”

Kirkus
“A much-awarded legal journalist serves up an investigative biography of the controversial, late chief justice.”

Wall Street Journal
“Though it may not be cheered by Rehnquist fans, “The Partisan: The Life of William Rehnquist” is no quick hit job. Mr. Jenkins and his research assistants pored through Rehnquist archives and the papers of other justices to illuminate some little-known corners of Chief Justice Rehnquist’s life.”

Thomson Reuters
“Jenkins's ‘The Partisan: The Life of William Rehnquist’ breaks new ground by unearthing the roots of Rehnquist's judicial dogma…Jenkins is a scalding critic of both Rehnquist's constitutional philosophy and of how the late chief justice put it to work. While the book is scrupulously documented, a product of well-tilled archives, interviews, audio analysis and FBI files, Jenkins doesn't spend much time plumbing the origins of that conservatism. But neither, he suggests, did Rehnquist.”

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Sure to incite passions among both conservative and liberal court watchers.”

Booklist
“Jenkins illuminates both the human side of Rehnquist, his parsimony and addiction to prescription painkillers, and his judicial philosophy, which generated little in the way of law but which supported  a strong conservative court  agenda for 33 years.“

Library Journal
“Not only the story of the justice’s life and career, this book is also a portrait of 20th-century American politics.  Recommended for readers interested in the Supreme Court and U.S. politics.”   

New York Journal of Books 
“The strength of this book: The author focuses on the man and does not get mired in cases.”

Publishers Weekly
“While Jenkins is an informed and balanced commentator on the politics surrounding presidential appointments to the Court, Rehnquist's legal legacy, and relationships among the justices, he is equally interested in Rehnquist the man—his character, his predilections, his demons…In an accessible and satisfying biography, Jenkins finds the right balance between the law and the man, the legal and the human.”

CNN.com
“His life story is little known to the public, but now the first full biography of the Wisconsin native reveals a complex, intelligent, and conservative man….The thoroughly researched account is based in part on a lengthy profile from 1984 by Jenkins, who conducted the last major interview given by the private Rehnquist.” 

Los Angeles Times
“Less a full biography than an extended essay with a point to make, ‘The Partisan’ doggedly — though somewhat selectively — chronicles the life of one of the court's most important modern justices… [M]uch remains that is worth reading and considering, especially today, as voters contemplate the alternative futures of the court that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney offer. In that regard, here's one more observation that frames ‘The Partisan’ against our contemporary life: If Rehnquist were alive and serving today, he'd be a moderate on the court, outflanked to his right by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and, arguably, Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts. Even Rehnquist would have found that hard to imagine.”

The Nation
“Many of Jenkins’s explorations are fascinating and break new ground; they fill out the profile of an enormously powerful and significant man… One area where The Partisan does add to our understanding or Rehnquist is his life outside the law… These revelations humanize the late chief justice, and his ability to preside over the Court distinguish him.”

Slate
“Jenkins paints a picture of a clearly brilliant yet ever-striving student, law student, clerk, and attorney…Those who agree with Jenkins’ argument will enjoy this meticulously researched account, right down to the recounting of the petty public arguments between Rehnquist and John Paul Stevens over Chicago Cubs trivia and the way he eventually forced Sandra Day O’Connor’s premature retirement.” 

New York Times Book Review
“engaging and perceptive”

Washington Post
“It is possible to draw a continuous line between the unyielding boy — a Roosevelt-hater in knee pants — and the unyielding justice, a man whom Nixon, approvingly, called a ‘reactionary bastard.’ In ‘The Partisan,’ John A. Jenkins, a legal journalist and the publisher emeritus of CQ Press, traces that life’s journey and concludes that Rehnquist never traveled far from where he began — that he was ‘flash frozen’ early on.”

Cape Cod Times
“Not surprisingly, no president can be assured of how a Supreme Court justice will vote. That is dramatically laid bare in this new biography of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who served for over 20 years and molded the court in his image.”

Maricopa Lawyer
“A highly readable, penetrating, and challenging re-examination of the U.S. Supreme Court’s sixteenth chief justice and succeeds with its concise summarization of Rehnquist’s conservative judicial views while using newly available sources to look at his private life and formative experiences. In the process, Jenkins takes the reader to the doorway of a deeply profound question on how America’s Constitution works: to what extent is a justice appointed on the basis of legal merit in a democratically transparent process versus a selection shrouded mostly in politics and private bargaining.”

CHOICE
“A useful introduction to the life and times of its subject.”

Library Journal
Jenkins (president & publisher, CQ Press) has written a brief but well-researched biography of William Rehnquist, former chief justice of the Supreme Court. Not a comprehensive story of the chief justice's decisions, the book explores Rehnquist's conservative values and how his views shaped his career. Jenkins explores Rehnquist's life by placing it in historical context. Rehnquist was exposed to politics from an early age by his parents, who were ardent Republicans. After serving in the military during World War II, he attended Stanford Law School. Rehnquist then began his career as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Henry Jackson. The book is most interesting when it discusses Rehnquist's career path, including an inside look at the Nixon White House where he worked as a deputy attorney general. VERDICT Rehnquist never completed a memoir, and his personal life is largely unknown to the public. Not only the story of the justice's life and career, this book is also a portrait of 20th-century American politics. Recommended for readers interested in the Supreme Court and U.S. politics.—Becky Kennedy, Atlanta-Fulton P.L., GA
Kirkus Reviews
A much-awarded legal journalist serves up an investigative biography of the controversial, late chief justice. Famously distrustful of the press, William Rehnquist (1924–2005) divulged little about himself during his three decades on the nation's highest court. CQ Press president and publisher Jenkins (Ladies' Man: The Life and Trials of Marvin Mitchelson, 1992, etc.) uncovers some nuggets about the private man, some amusing--he loved making small wagers on almost any proposition; he drafted a novel repeatedly rejected by publishers--some startling--during the early 1980s "he was desperately, abusively addicted to prescription pain killers." The author credits Rehnquist with high intelligence and good humor and persuasively argues that his temperament most closely resembled his ideological counterpart, the iconoclastic William O. Douglas. He uncovers the origins of Rehnquist's conservatism and explores his law school career, his clerkship under Robert Jackson, his rise in the Goldwater and his tenure in the Mitchell Justice Department under Nixon. But when he turns to Rehnquist's jurisprudence, Jenkins unrelentingly scorns the man he blames for the court's current politicization. He flays Rehnquist as an unprincipled conservative who looked first to the desired result and only then to the reasoning, who valued efficiency over justice, who ignored precedent, who favored broad governmental power over civil rights, who lacked any "consistent constitutional theory" save for his own consistently "reactionary ideology." Many of our laws later conformed to the famously lone dissents of Rehnquist's early career, but Jenkins attributes this not to the chief's leadership, but rather to the court's changing composition. As with many court commentators, Jenkins equates "maturation" or "growth" with change, almost always a change from right to left. That Rehnquist "could not evolve," the author takes as a huge black mark against the man who "made it respectable to be an expedient conservative on the Court." The Rehnquist legacy harshly gaveled down.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586488871
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 10/2/2012
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 1,397,281
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

John A. Jenkins is president and publisher of CQ Press. His work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, GQ, the Washington Monthly, and the American Lawyer. He is a four-time recipient of the American Bar Association’s Gavel Award Certificate of Merit, the highest award in legal journalism.

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Table of Contents

Reserchers xi

Introduction xiii

1 Shorewood 1

2 A Change of Name and Place 7

3 "Hate Black" 13

4 Basic Moral Rights 19

5 On to Washington 27

6 An "Unhumanitarian Position," and Other Memos 33

7 "Like a Bunch of Old Women" 45

8 Hanging Judge 49

9 Rugged Libertarianism 59

10 "What the Court Really Needs Is a Chief Justice" 65

11 Cowboys in Washington 75

12 Changes on the Court 89

13 Southern Strategy 95

14 Two More Vacancies 103

15 "You Might Consider Bill Rehnquist" 111

16 "What Now, Hon. W. H. Rehnquist?" 131

17 Roe v. Wade 137

18 "The Better Point of View" 149

19 Lone Dissenter 163

20 Bored at the Court 169

21 An Aspiring Novelist 177

22 Code Pink 189

23 A Betting Man 197

24 "Bizarre Ideas and Outrageous Thoughts" 203

25 Bicentennial Bombshell 209

26 A Score to Settle 215

27 High Expectations 223

28 The Brennan Court 229

29 Federalism, Occasionally 237

30 A Fragile Majority 245

31 Solendor of Stripes 253

32 Clinton's Trial 257

33 "Never Let the War End Until You've Won It" 261

Acknowledgments 267

Chronology 271

Notes on Sources 273

Selected Bibliography 315

Index 319

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