Chief Justice William Rehnquist

Chief Justice William Rehnquist joined the U.S. Supreme Court as an Associate Justice on January 7, 1972, replacing Justice John Marshall Harlan II. He was elevated to Chief Justice on September 26, 1986, replacing Chief Justice Warren Burger. Rehnquist was born on October 1, 1924 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He briefly attended Kenyon College in Ohio before joining the U.S. Army Air Forces (now the U.S. Air Force) during the Second World War. He served as a weather observer in North Africa. Rehnquist then attended Stanford University, graduating in 1948. He also received a master’s degree from Harvard University before he returned to Stanford for law school, graduating in 1952.

Rehnquist launched his legal career by clerking for Justice Robert H. Jackson on the U.S. Supreme Court. As a clerk, he wrote a memo for Jackson that defended the "separate but equal" principle and the notorious Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which the Court later repudiated in Brown v. Board of Education. Whether the memo represented Rehnquist’s view or Jackson’s view remains unclear, but Rehnquist never sought to reverse Brown while on the Court.

After his clerkship, Rehnquist entered private practice in Arizona. In 1969, President Richard Nixon appointed him as an Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel, part of the U.S. Department of Justice. He held this position for nearly three years.

On October 22, 1971, Nixon nominated Rehnquist to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on December 10 in a 68-26 vote, and he took the judicial oath about a month later. Rehnquist often voiced more conservative views than his colleagues on the Warren Burger Court. He earned the nickname of "Lone Ranger" for his solo dissents.

On June 20, 1986, President Ronald Reagan nominated Rehnquist to the Chief Justice seat on the Court. The Senate confirmed him on September 17 in a 65-33 vote, and he took the seat about a week later. Rehnquist would serve as Chief Justice for nearly two decades. He also presided over the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999, in which he was careful to play an unobtrusive role.

Legal scholars often remember Rehnquist for his efforts to limit federal power. Two of his most notable opinions came in U.S. v. Lopez and U.S. v. Morrison, which found that Congress had exceeded the scope of its commerce power under the Constitution. However, he also wrote for the Court in South Dakota v. Dole, which took a broad view of the spending power of Congress.

As an Associate Justice, Rehnquist was one of only two dissenters from the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which found a constitutional right to abortion. In a concurrence/dissent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey two decades later, he declared that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled. Rehnquist also supported capital punishment and often voted against constitutional protection for LGBTQ+ rights. He took a lenient view of the separation of church and state required by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. For example, he wrote a plurality opinion upholding a display of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol.

Rehnquist died on September 3, 2005 in Arlington, Virginia and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He was the first Justice to die while on the Court in over half a century. Chief Justice John Roberts replaced him.

Selected Opinions by Chief Justice Rehnquist:

Van Orden v. Perry (2005)

Topic: Religion

While the Ten Commandments are religious, they also have a historical meaning. Simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause.

Thornton v. U.S. (2004)

Topic: Search & Seizure

Belton governs even when an officer does not make contact until the person arrested has left the vehicle.

Maryland v. Pringle (2003)

Topic: Search & Seizure

To determine whether an officer had probable cause to make an arrest, a court must examine the events leading up to the arrest, and then decide whether these historical facts, viewed from the standpoint of an objectively reasonable police officer, amount to probable cause.

McConnell v. FEC (2003)

Topic: Free Speech

The governmental interest in preventing the actual or apparent corruption of federal candidates and officeholders constitutes a sufficiently important interest to justify contribution limits.

Locke v. Davey (2004)

Topic: Religion

A state's exclusion of the pursuit of a devotional theology degree from its otherwise inclusive scholarship aid program did not violate the Free Exercise Clause.

Demore v. Kim (2003)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

Although the Fifth Amendment entitles foreign nationals to due process in deportation proceedings, detention during these proceedings is a constitutionally valid aspect of the process, even when detention is challenged on the basis that there has been no finding that a foreign national is unlikely to appear for their deportation proceedings.

Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002)

Topic: Religion

A government aid program is not readily subject to challenge under the Establishment Clause if it is neutral with respect to religion and provides assistance directly to a broad class of citizens who, in turn, direct government aid to religious schools wholly as a result of their genuine and independent private choice.

Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2001)

Topic: Climate Change & Environment

The Clean Water Act does not allow the extension of the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers to wetlands that are not adjacent to open water.

Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000)

Topic: LGBTQ+ Rights

Government actions that unconstitutionally burden the right of expressive association include intruding into a group's internal affairs by forcing it to accept a member whom it does not desire. Such forced membership is unconstitutional if the person's presence significantly affects the group's ability to advocate public or private viewpoints. (This case involved the expulsion of a gay scoutmaster from the Boy Scouts.)

Dickerson v. U.S. (2000)

Topic: Role of Courts; Miranda Rights

Since Miranda is a constitutional decision of the Supreme Court, it may not be in effect overruled by an Act of Congress. More generally, while Congress has ultimate authority to modify or set aside rules of evidence and procedure that are not constitutionally required, it may not supersede Supreme Court decisions interpreting and applying the Constitution.

U.S. v. Morrison (2000)

Topic: Powers of Congress

Congress may not regulate non-economic, violent criminal conduct based solely on its aggregate effect on interstate commerce. The Constitution requires a distinction between what is national and what is local.

Bond v. U.S. (2000)

Topic: Search & Seizure

A border patrol agent's physical manipulation of a bus passenger's carry-on bag violated the Fourth Amendment proscription against unreasonable searches.

Illinois v. Wardlow (2000)

Topic: Search & Seizure

An individual's presence in a "high crime area", standing alone, is not enough to support a reasonable, particularized suspicion of criminal activity. However, a location's characteristics are relevant in determining whether the circumstances are sufficiently suspicious to warrant further investigation.

Knowles v. Iowa (1998)

Topic: Search & Seizure

While the authority to conduct a full field search as incident to an arrest was established as a bright line rule under Robinson, that rule should not be extended to a situation in which the concern for officer safety is not present to the same extent, and the concern for destruction or loss of evidence is not present at all.

Raines v. Byrd (1997)

Topic: Role of Courts

For standing, a plaintiff's complaint must establish that they have a personal stake in the alleged dispute and that the alleged injury suffered is particularized to them.

Vacco v. Quill (1997)

Topic: Equal Protection; Health Care

A state does not violate the Equal Protection Clause by banning assisted suicide while permitting patients to refuse medical treatment.

Washington v. Glucksberg (1997)

Topic: Due Process; Health Care

A “right” to assistance in committing suicide is not a fundamental liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause. Thus, a state law banning physician-assisted suicide does not violate due process.

Maryland v. Wilson (1997)

Topic: Search & Seizure

An officer making a traffic stop may order passengers to get out of the car pending completion of the stop.

Ohio v. Robinette (1996)

Topic: Search & Seizure

The Fourth Amendment does not require that a lawfully seized defendant be advised that they are free to go before their consent to search will be recognized as voluntary.

U.S. v. Lopez (1995)

Topic: Powers of Congress

Congress may regulate the use of the channels of interstate commerce, regulate and protect the instrumentalities of interstate commerce (or persons or things in interstate commerce), and regulate activities that have a substantial relation to interstate commerce.

Arizona v. Evans (1995)

Topic: Search & Seizure

The exclusionary rule does not require the suppression of evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment when the erroneous information resulted from clerical errors of court employees.

Dolan v. City of Tigard (1994)

Topic: Property Rights & Land Use

It must be determined whether an essential nexus exists between a legitimate state interest and a permit condition. If one does, it must be decided whether the degree of the exactions demanded by the permit conditions bears the required relationship to the projected impact of the proposed development. In deciding the second question, the necessary connection is “rough proportionality.”

Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc. (1994)

Topic: Copyrights

Prevailing plaintiffs and prevailing defendants in copyright infringement cases must be treated similarly regarding attorney fees, which may be awarded to prevailing parties only as a matter of the court's discretion.

Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District (1993)

Topic: Religion

Government programs that neutrally provide benefits to a broad class of citizens defined without reference to religion are not readily subject to an Establishment Clause challenge just because sectarian institutions may also receive an attenuated financial benefit.

Nixon v. U.S. (1993)

Topic: Role of Courts

A lack of judicially manageable standards may strengthen the conclusion that there is a textually demonstrable commitment to a coordinate branch under the political question doctrine.

Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc. (1991)

Topic: Free Speech

Nude dancing at adult entertainment establishments is expressive conduct within the outer perimeters of the First Amendment, but only marginally so. The enforcement of a public indecency law to prevent totally nude dancing does not violate the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of expression.

Florida v. Jimeno (1991)

Topic: Search & Seizure

A criminal suspect's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches is not violated when they give police permission to search their car, and the police open a closed container in the car that might reasonably hold the object of the search.

Rust v. Sullivan (1991)

Topic: Free Speech

The government may make a value judgment favoring childbirth over abortion and implement that judgment by the allocation of public funds. In so doing, the government has not discriminated on the basis of viewpoint; it has merely chosen to fund one activity to the exclusion of another.

Air Courier Conference v. American Postal Workers Union (1991)

Topic: Government Agencies

Once they have shown that they are adversely affected, a plaintiff seeking to establish standing to sue under Section 702 of the APA must show that they are within the zone of interests sought to be protected by the statutory provision whose violation forms the legal basis of their complaint.

Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Dept. of Health (1990)

Topic: Due Process; Health Care

The Constitution does not forbid a state from requiring that evidence of an incompetent person's wishes as to the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment be proved by clear and convincing evidence.

Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz (1990)

Topic: Search & Seizure

The use of highway sobriety checkpoints does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez (1990)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

The Fourth Amendment does not apply to the search and seizure by U.S. agents of property owned by a non-resident foreign national that is located in a foreign country.

Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989)

Topic: Abortion & Reproductive Rights

Restrictions on the use of public employees and facilities for the performance or assistance of non-therapeutic abortions did not contravene the Court's abortion decisions. The Due Process Clauses generally confer no affirmative right to governmental aid, even when such aid may be necessary to secure life, liberty, or property interests of which the government may not deprive the individual.

Martin v. Wilks (1989)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

A voluntary settlement in the form of a consent decree between one group of employees and their employer cannot possibly settle the conflicting claims of another group of employees who do not join in the agreement.

Morrison v. Olson (1988)

Topic: Separation of Powers; Government Agencies

Congress may place the power to appoint inferior executive officers outside the executive branch. Also, Congress may impose a good cause-type restriction on the President's power to remove an official if this does not interfere with the President's exercise of the executive power and their constitutionally appointed duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

Pennell v. City of San Jose (1988)

Topic: Property Rights & Land Use

Preventing unreasonable rent increases caused by a city housing shortage is a legitimate exercise of the police powers of the city government.

South Dakota v. Dole (1987)

Topic: Powers of Congress

The exercise of the spending power must be in pursuit of the general welfare. If Congress desires to condition the states' receipt of federal funds, it must do so unambiguously, enabling the states to exercise their choice knowingly, cognizant of the consequences of their participation. Conditions on federal grants must be related to a national concern.

First English Evangelical Lutheran Church v. Los Angeles County (1987)

Topic: Property Rights & Land Use

When the government has taken property by a land use regulation, the property owner may recover damages for the time before it is finally determined that the regulation constitutes a taking.

Connecticut v. Barrett (1987)

Topic: Miranda Rights

Although the Miranda rules were designed to protect defendants from being compelled by the government to make statements, they also give defendants the right to choose between speech and silence.

Colorado v. Bertine (1987)

Topic: Search & Seizure

Reasonable police regulations related to inventory procedures, administered in good faith, satisfy the Fourth Amendment.

Colorado v. Connelly (1986)

Topic: Due Process; Miranda Rights

Coercive police activity is a necessary predicate to finding that a suspect's confession is not voluntary within the meaning of the Due Process Clause. More generally, the sole concern of the Fifth Amendment, on which Miranda was based, is governmental coercion.

Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (1986)

Topic: Labor & Employment

A claim of hostile environment sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that is actionable under Title VII.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett (1986)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.

Delaware v. Van Arsdall (1986)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

A criminal defendant states a violation of the Confrontation Clause by showing that they were prohibited from engaging in otherwise appropriate cross-examination designed to show a prototypical form of bias on the part of the witness. However, the constitutionally improper denial of a defendant's opportunity to impeach a witness for bias is subject to harmless error analysis. Whether an error is harmless depends on factors such as the importance of the witness' testimony, whether the testimony was cumulative, the presence or absence of evidence corroborating or contradicting the testimony on material points, the extent of cross-examination otherwise permitted, and the overall strength of the prosecution's case.

Goldman v. Weinberger (1986)

Topic: Religion

Review of military regulations challenged on First Amendment grounds is far more deferential than constitutional review of similar laws or regulations designed for civilian society.

Phillips Petroleum Co. v. Shutts (1985)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

Due process requires that absent class members in a class action receive notice, an opportunity to appear in person or by counsel, an opportunity to opt out, and adequate representation. It does not require that absent class members affirmatively opt in to the class.

Heckler v. Chaney (1985)

Topic: Government Agencies

An agency's decision not to take enforcement action is presumed immune from judicial review under Section 701(a)(2) of the APA.

New York v. Quarles (1984)

Topic: Miranda Rights

The doctrinal underpinnings of Miranda do not require that it be applied in all its rigor to a situation in which police officers ask questions reasonably prompted by a concern for the public safety.

INS v. Delgado (1984)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

Individual questioning of employees by INS agents concerning their citizenship did not amount to a detention or seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

Mueller v. Allen (1983)

Topic: Religion

A statute does not violate the Establishment Clause when it allows state taxpayers to deduct expenses incurred in providing tuition, textbooks, and transportation for their children attending an elementary or secondary school, even if parents take the tax deduction for expenses incurred in sending their children to parochial schools.

Illinois v. Gates (1983)

Topic: Search & Seizure

The rigid two-pronged test under Aguilar and Spinelli for determining whether an informant's tip establishes probable cause for issuance of a warrant is abandoned, and the totality of the circumstances approach that traditionally has informed probable cause determinations is substituted in its place.

Oregon v. Bradshaw (1983)

Topic: Miranda Rights

A suspect initiates further conversation within the meaning of Edwards when their statement evinces a willingness and a desire for a generalized discussion about the investigation, rather than pursuing a necessary inquiry arising out of the incidents of the custodial relationship.

Dames & Moore v. Regan (1981)

Topic: Separation of Powers

Long continued executive practice, of which Congress knows and in which it acquiesces, raises a presumption that presidential action has been taken pursuant to Congress' consent.

Parratt v. Taylor (1981)

Topic: Due Process

A due process violation does not arise from the unauthorized failure of state agents to follow established state procedure when the state provides an adequate post-deprivation remedy.

Michael M. v. Superior Court (1981)

Topic: Equal Protection

A statute will be upheld when the gender classification is not invidious but instead realistically reflects the fact that the sexes are not similarly situated in certain circumstances.

Diamond v. Diehr (1981)

Topic: Patents

A patent claim drawn to subject matter otherwise statutory does not become non-statutory simply because it uses a mathematical formula, computer program, or digital computer.

Upjohn Co. v. U.S. (1981)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

The attorney-client privilege exists to protect not only the giving of professional advice to those who can act on it, but also the giving of information to the lawyer to enable them to give sound and informed advice. However, the privilege only protects disclosure of communications, rather than disclosure of the underlying facts.

Rawlings v. Kentucky (1980)

Topic: Search & Seizure

When the arrest followed quickly after the search of the defendant's person, it is not important that the search preceded the arrest, rather than vice versa.

Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins (1980)

Topic: Property Rights & Land Use

State constitutional provisions, as construed to permit people reasonably to exercise free speech and petition rights on the property of a privately owned shopping center to which the public is invited, do not violate the property rights or the free speech rights of the shopping center owner under the U.S. Constitution.

Goldwater v. Carter (1979)

Topic: Role of Courts

A question is political and non-justiciable when it involves the authority of the President in the conduct of foreign relations and the extent to which the Senate or the Congress is authorized to negate the action of the President.

Chrysler Corp. v. Brown (1979)

Topic: Government Agencies

Congress did not design the Freedom of Information Act exemptions to be mandatory bars to disclosure.

Scott v. Illinois (1979)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

The Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments require that no indigent criminal defendant be sentenced to a term of imprisonment unless the state has provided them with the right to assistance of appointed counsel in their defense. However, these Amendments do not require a state trial court to appoint counsel for a criminal defendant who is charged with a statutory offense for which imprisonment on conviction is authorized but not imposed.

Givhan v. Western Line Consolidated School District (1979)

Topic: Labor & Employment; Free Speech

A public employee does not forfeit their First Amendment protection when they arrange to communicate privately with their employer, rather than expressing their views publicly.

Rakas v. Illinois (1978)

Topic: Search & Seizure

A person aggrieved by an illegal search and seizure only through the introduction of damaging evidence secured by a search of a third person's premises or property has not had any of their Fourth Amendment rights infringed.

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. NRDC (1978)

Topic: Climate Change & Environment; Government Agencies

The concept of alternatives in environmental impact statements under the National Environmental Policy Act must be bounded by some notion of feasibility. Common sense also teaches that the statement of alternatives cannot be found wanting simply because the agency failed to include every alternative device and thought conceivable by the mind of man. In addition, Section 553 of the APA establishes the maximum procedural requirements that courts can impose on federal agencies in conducting rulemaking proceedings. While agencies are free to grant additional procedural rights at their discretion, reviewing courts are generally not free to impose them.

U.S. v. Ceccolini (1978)

Topic: Search & Seizure

The exclusionary rule should be invoked with much greater reluctance when the claim is based on a causal relationship between a constitutional violation and the discovery of a live witness than when a similar claim is advanced to support suppression of an inanimate object.

Aldinger v. Howard (1976)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

A non-federal claim should not be the basis for joining a party over whom no independent federal jurisdiction exists, simply because that claim derives from the common nucleus of operative fact giving rise to the dispute between the parties to the federal claim.

Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. v. Wetzel (1976)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

An order constituting a grant of partial summary judgment limited to liability cannot be considered final when damages or other relief remain to be resolved.

Richardson v. Ramirez (1974)

Topic: Voting & Elections

A state did not violate the Equal Protection Clause in disenfranchising convicted felons who have completed their sentences and paroles.

U.S. v. Robinson (1973)

Topic: Search & Seizure

In the case of a lawful custodial arrest, a full search of the person is not only an exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment but also a reasonable search under the Fourth Amendment.

U.S. v. Florida East Coast Railway Co. (1973)

Topic: Government Agencies

Language in the Interstate Commerce Act providing that an agency may establish reasonable rules “after hearing” did not trigger Sections 556 and 557 of the APA, requiring a trial-type hearing and the presentation of oral arguments by affected parties.

U.S. v. Allegheny-Ludlum Steel Corp. (1972)

Topic: Government Agencies

Sections 556 and 557 of the APA need be applied only when the agency statute, in addition to providing a hearing, prescribes explicitly that it be on the record.