In 1948 he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master’s in Political Science and in 1950 he went to Harvard University to obtain a Master’s in government. He went back to Stanford to study law.
He received a prestigious 18-month clerkship with Associate Justice Robert Jackson of the U.S. Supreme Court during 1952-53. It was during his tenure here that he drafted the controversial memo for Jackson, which advocating racial segregation called it ‘right’ and said that it “should be affirmed”.
The memo was a matter of debate during his Senate confirmation hearings in 1971. He, however, argued that he had drafted the document to express the views of Justice Jackson and not his own.
After the Supreme Court clerkship, Rehnquist started practicing law in Phoenix between 1953 and 1969 and worked for several law firms.
In the process he made many friends due to his active role in the Republican Party including Richard Kleindeist, who later became deputy attorney general in the Nixon administration.
He returned to Washington with Kleindeist’s help when President Nixon appointed him as assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Affairs in the Department of Justice.
When, two years later, in September 1971 the U.S. Supreme Court Justices Marshall Harlan and Hugo Black retired due to illness President Nixon nominated Rehnquist to fill the seat vacated by Harlan.
Rehnquist remained on the Bench till 1986 after which the outgoing Chief Justice Warren Burger left a vacant place. Rehnquist was then appointed the Chief Justice after being nominated by President Reagan for the position. Rehnquist took the position on September 26, 1986.
Rehnquist was known for being the most conservative member of the court, was a lone dissenter in many cases, writing several opinions reversing the liberal trend of the Earl Warren court in criminal cases.
Notably, when in 1973 the High Court in Roe v. Wade overturned state laws against abortions, Justice Rehnquist dissented arguing in favour of the state power.
Besides Roe v. Wade, Rehnquist was a part of many other pivotal rulings including a reinstatement of death penalty laws with new procedures in 1976 and also presided over President Clinton’s impeachment trial.
The election recount trial of 2000, which made George W. Bush the President, was also presided over by Justice Rehnquist.
Justice Rehnquist is the author of The Supreme Court: How It Is, How It Was, and Grand Inquests: The Historic Impeachments of Justice Samuel Chase and President Andrew Johnson and All the Laws But One: Civil Liberties in Wartime.
He married a fellow Stanford student, Natalie Cornell, in 1953, which died on Oct. 17, 1991 leaving behind their three children: James, Janet and Nancy.