Tales from the Trail

Busted at the U.S. Supreme Court

December 10, 2009

The U.S. Supreme Court unveiled a white marble bust of the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who was remembered as an exceptional lawyer, a skillful judicial administrator and an avid tennis player. COURT

The $50,000 marble portrait of  the influential conservative jurist wearing his judicial robe will join the busts of 15 other former chief justices in a prominent hallway before the entrance to the courtroom. Rehnquist died from cancer four years ago after serving on the nation’s highest court for more than 33 years.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who once worked for Rehnquist as a Supreme Court law clerk and then succeeded him, and  Justice John Paul Stevens, both described Rehnquist as a great chief justice at a special ceremony Thursday.

James Duff, a top aide to Rehnquist, recalled how the chief justice also wrote four books, played tennis and enjoyed watching sports — especially college football — and singing songs.

Duff said Rehnquist appreciated brevity and would have been particularly pleased the speakers at the ceremony had a five-minute limit.

Son James Rehnquist recalled that his father, formerly at a small law firm in Arizona, had become a top Justice Department attorney during Richard Nixon’s presidency.

He recalled how his father, drinking apple juice and eating vanilla wafer cookies at the family home in Virginia, broke the news to him in 1971 that Nixon would be announcing two appointments to the Supreme Court.

“One is Lewis Powell and the other is me,” Rehnquist said.

“And I said WHAT!” his astonished son blurted out.

“Yeah, can you believe it?” Rehnquist said. And as his son put it Thursday, “The rest is history.”

Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (Rehnquist in 2003)

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