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John Adams Blog

The blog of The Antient and Honourable John Adams Society, Minnesota's Conservative Debating Society www.johnadamssociety.org

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Bill Rehnquist RIP II

Another interesting article reflecting the Chief Justice's character:

Rehnquist: Big day for law student
By Michael ManningSpecial for The RepublicSept. 18, 2005 12:00 AM

During the next several months much will be written about Chief Justice William Rehnquist's legacy and his impact on 20th-century jurisprudence. Although I will always respect the man and the jurist, I do not really have the studied credentials to opine about his contributions to our Constitution and our Supreme Court.I am a work-a-day trial lawyer in Phoenix, but, I had a very human and humorous experience with then-Associate Justice Rehnquist just before I became a lawyer. That experience demonstrated a great deal about the man that is not evident from the current accolades concerning his unique intellect.I met Associate Justice Rehnquist in the spring of 1977. While he had only been on the Court since 1971, his immediate impact on our country and its Constitution occupied dozens of pages in our Constitutional Law casebook.

I was a third-year law student at a wonderful, but relatively obscure, law school in the really obscure capital city of Kansas: Topeka.I had written a letter to Justice Rehnquist inviting him to write a scholarly piece for our Law Journal. I knew getting him to write that article for our Law Journal would be a long shot.

My professors and student colleagues laughed at my chances to even get him to respond to the invitation.One street-wise faculty member quipped that Vegas had 1 million-to-1 odds of Justice Rehnquist accepting the invitation. After all, the professor reminded me that I was just a student writing from a law school in what he referred to as "Ta-puke-a," Kansas.I lengthened those Vegas odds when I asked Associate Justice Rehnquist to deliver the paper personally in a presentation to our law students, faculty and members of the Kansas judiciary.Topeka is only exciting in the spring during tornado warnings.

Still, early that spring, I was handed an envelope from Justice Rehnquist's chambers.I assumed the envelope was the widely predicted rejection; Vegas oddsmakers are rarely wrong.I prayed that his rejection of my invitation would be both polite and would avoid expressing surprise that "Ta-puke-a" had a law school.I was speechless when I read his brief response.Associate Justice Rehnquist said he would be delighted to prepare an article for our Law Journal. And, if we could pay for a coach seat to Topeka and a room for a couple of nights, he actually would deliver that paper in person and visit with the school's students and faculty thereafter!As editor in chief of that Law Journal, I appointed myself the justice's chauffeur for his three days in Topeka. I borrowed a fancy new Cadillac from a local lawyer for whom I had clerked before I was selected for the Law Journal.

Topeka's stagecoach depot of 1877 was far bigger and far busier than its airport of 1977. Each of its two-a-day, propeller-driven, commuter flights from Kansas City was a happening.On the day Associate Justice Rehnquist was to arrive, I put on the only suit I owned and waited nervously for the three-piece, Brooks Brothers-suited dignitary to hand me his baggage and to lead him to the back seat of his chauffeured sedan.Nearly all of the flight's few passengers were past me now as I stood near the gate. But, there was no impressive personage headed my away.My excitement and nervousness turned to agitation that the justice may have missed his connection in Kansas City.As I considered approaching the man serving as that flight's pilot, baggage handler, flight attendant and ticket agent to report my missing dignitary, I noticed in my peripheral vision a man who appeared to be waiting for someone as well. He wore a wrinkled and tattered trench coat like TV's favorite detective, Lt. Columbo.He also wore Hush Puppy desert boots and an old fishing hat with its brim pulled down all around."God, I hope Justice Rehnquist does not think that this man is one of our professors," I thought to myself.The man kept nudging nearer to me and making inane small talk I ignored. As the last passenger passed me by, the rumpled man said, "You are dressed like you are waiting for someone important."I was dismissive and abrupt to the rumpled old stranger (he was then about my age now) as I stared straight ahead and said, "Please leave me alone; I am here to pick up a member of the United States Supreme Court."He said, "What a coincidence! I am a member of the Supreme Court as well. How about giving me a ride into town, too?" He laughed and introduced himself as "Bill Rehnquist." I could only manage a mumbled combination apology and introduction as well as a sweaty-palmed handshake. He jumped into the front seat with me and promised he had a suit for the speech and that he would not wear his desert boots.By his sixth year on the court, Associate Justice Rehnquist was the man who every liberal law student loved to hate.But, by the end of my Constitutional Law semester, I had developed a grudging admiration for his "Lone Ranger" dissents, his intellect, his intellectual honesty and his persuasive writing style.

In that airport and on our way to the law school, he demonstrated a sense of humor, a charm and a charisma that most people believed was incompatible with his rock-ribbed conservatism.I spent three days hosting his visit. He enthralled faculty, students and members of the Kansas judiciary.

One evening's episode really demonstrated his character and sense of humor. After a faculty reception at the law school, I was driving Justice Rehnquist back to his room at the nicest hotel in Topeka, our new Holiday Inn. As we neared the hotel, he asked me where he could go for a walk and have a "nightcap."Kansas still was a "dry" state in 1977 - liquor by the drink was outlawed. So, I told him that I would take him to a nice leathery, country-clublike tavern. He said that was not what he was interested in; he just wanted to walk a bit by himself, stretch his bad back and drop into a place for a beer.I pointed out a couple of places near the Holiday Inn but warned the justice that they were just beer "joints," with pickled eggs and sausages marinating in large jars that sat on the top of the old oak bar. He said that was just the type of place he was looking for.

I left the justice at the hotel about 8 that night and picked him up the next morning. He told me how much he enjoyed his walk and that he had three or four beers at one of the "joints." He said he sat at the bar, talked and told jokes late into the night with a number of the bar's regulars. Just before he left to return to the hotel, he asked one of his bar mates, Pete, what he did for a living.Pete told him that he drove a big-rig truck for Pacific International Express. In turn, Pete asked his new buddy "Bill" what he did for a living. Bill said to Pete and his bar gang, "Well, I work in Washington, D.C. I am a member of the U.S. Supreme Court."Pete and the gang laughed heartily at Bill's joke or apparent fantasy, slapped him on the back and offered to buy him one more beer "for the road back to Washington and the Supreme Court."Justice Rehnquist laughed with me about his time with Pete and the boys at the bar that next morning but kept saying how much he genuinely enjoyed sitting down and talking to middle Americans who had absolutely no idea who he was.

I wish I could have witnessed that evening with Pete, Bill and the boys at the bar. Later that day, I did witness Justice Rehnquist discuss the great constitutional issues of the day.Of course, his intellect was awesome, entertaining and enlightening. All of us expected we would have that reaction.

But, this great man's charm, sense of humor and his delight in spending the night with Pete and the boys of the bar, coupled with his unique intellect and judicial genius, exalt Chief Justice Rehnquist to distinction. Pete and the boys had no idea that night in Topeka that they were sharing beers and laughs with a man who historians will certainly conclude was one of our country's most influential jurists.

Michael Manning is a prominent Phoenix attorney who has successfully litigated cases against financier Charles H. Keating and former Arizona Gov. Fife Symington.

Blogger Sloanasaurus said...

Excellent. Perhaps we will not realize how much we miss him until the Court starts acting without him.

9:50 PM, September 19, 2005  

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