The education of William Rehnquist, as rendered by Jenkins, was less a search for truth than a search for reinforcement. While serving in North Africa during World War II, Rehnquist read Friedrich Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom,” which strengthened his instinctive libertarianism. His time at Stanford Law School intensified his conviction that the 14th and 15th amendments should be interpreted narrowly. Indeed, during his clerkship for Justice Robert H. Jackson from 1952 to 1953, Rehnquist wrote a memo complaining that the court, in Brown v. Board of Education, was “being asked to read its own sociological views into the Constitution.”
As for his own views, he rejected the idea that segregation was “one of those extreme cases which commands intervention from one of any conviction.”
After his clerkship, Rehnquist joined a law firm in Arizona and fell in with the crowd around Sen. Barry Goldwater — “his philosophical soul mate,” a friend recalled. Rehnquist took charge of “ballot security” for the state’s GOP, a role he discharged by challenging the literacy of black and Latino voters (until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed such tests).
In 1969 he joined the Justice Department, emerging as a caustic public critic, in the Spiro Agnew vein, of what he called “the new barbarians” — antiwar protesters and other bugaboos. Before gatherings of Elks and Kiwanis, Rehnquist cut a strange and shambling figure — a mutton-chopped crusader in pink pinstripes and wide, garish ties, inveighing against Miranda v. Arizona and the rights of the accused. “Law and order,” he told one audience, “will be pursued at whatever cost in individual liberties and rights.”
Performances like this, along with other acts of service, earned Rehnquist a Supreme Court nomination. As Jenkins describes, Rehnquist was neither an obvious nor a comfortable fit. He did not have what one might call a judicial temperament. He did not weigh, did not reflect, did not deliberate. Instead, as Nixon had hoped, he staked out a position on the far right of the court — at that time, an isolated post — and pursued his agenda. When his clerks nicknamed him “the Lone Dissenter,” Rehnquist wore the label like an honorific. Jurisprudentially, he gave every appearance of a man who did not give a damn.