This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Rehnquist's legacy shaped by efforts to limit federal powers, Roe dissent, Albert says

Published: November 11, 2004

Contributing Editor

If Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist soon retires from the bench because of thyroid cancer—as many speculate he will—he will leave behind a legacy as "a strong chief justice, generally well-liked by his brethren," according to a Supreme Court expert at UB.

"Rehnquist will be remembered for leading the court in the movement to curtail national government powers. That was something that he initiated and was the principal moving force behind," says Lee Albert, professor in the Law School.

"He thought it was time for Congress to be reminded that there are states, and there are some things that states can do as well as, or better than, the federal government."

Rehnquist also will be remembered for his dissent in Row. V. Wade.

"Of course, he is identified as being staunchly against Roe v. Wade and its progeny," Albert says. "He was one of the two dissenters, and a strong dissent it was. He has been consistent on abortion since then.

"His opinions in many areas reflect a narrow view of constitutional rights," he adds.

Though consistently conservative in his opinions, Rehnquist has been "not a man of total predictability," Albert says. "He surprised many when he wrote the majority opinion (in 2000) to maintain the Miranda warnings, though he originally opposed Miranda (in 1966). This showed his interest in stability; it showed that he's not just a results-oriented kind of justice."

Albert expects President Bush will look outside the current court for a chief justice to replace Rehnquist.

"This will be a special appointment for Bush because he will not just be appointing a justice, he will be appointing a chief justice," he says. "One current justice might qualify as chief justice—Justice Antonin Scalia—but that would be far too controversial and I don't think Bush wants to pick that fight." Albert and most court observers speculate that at least one other justice will step down during Bush's second term, and that Bush will appoint a conservative justice in the tradition of Clarence Thomas and Scalia.

"Bush's choices for lower courts have been controversial by virtue of the appointees having pronounced conservative views on the hot issues of the day. There's no reason that would change when it comes to high court appointments," Albert says.