William H. Rehnquist, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1986-2005)

gravestone of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist

 

William Hubbs Rehnquist served on the U.S. Supreme Court for 33 years, first as an associate justice (1972 to 1986) and then as chief justice (1986 until his death in 2005). 

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1924, Rehnquist grew up in a conservative, middle-class suburban family. During World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces, serving as a weather observer in North Africa. The G.I. Bill funded his education at Stanford University, from which he received a B.A. and an M.A. in political science. He went on to attend Stanford Law School, and then clerked for Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson. While practicing law in Phoenix, Arizona, Rehnquist achieved prominence in the Republican Party, campaigning for presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election. He joined the Justice Department under President Richard M. Nixon, serving as assistant attorney general of the Office of Legal Counsel from 1969 to 1971. When Supreme Court Justice Marshall Harlan retired in 1971, President Nixon selected Rehnquist as Harlan's replacement. A Democratic Senate overwhelmingly confirmed his nomination. On January 7, 1972, Rehnquist took his oath of office as an associate justice. Fourteen years later, President Ronald Reagan nominated him as chief justice, to replace the retiring Warren Burger

William H. Rehnquist's lengthy service on the Supreme Court allowed him to witness — and to influence — a dramatic transition in political ideology, from the liberalism of the Warren and Burger years to an era of more conservative jurisprudence. In his early days on the Court, Rehnquist often spoke out as the Court's lone dissenter against the expansion of federal power. As chief justice, however, Rehnquist occasionally ruled with his liberal colleagues (in decisions that protected gay rights and free speech, for example), and he earned widespread respect for his efficient management of court affairs and his encyclopedic knowledge of constitutional law.

After his wife, Natalie Cornell Rehnquist, passed away in 1991, Rehnquist spent the last 14 years of his life as a widower, but did not retire. On September 3, 2005, after a long battle with thyroid cancer, he passed away in his suburban Virginia home. Justice Rehnquist and his wife are buried in Section 5, Grave 7049-LH.