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Judge for Yourself

Sunday, October 4, 2009

REHNQUIST

A Personal Portrait of the Distinguished Chief Justice of the United States

By Herman J. Obermayer

Threshold. 280 pp. $27

Drawing on his long friendship with William Rehnquist (1924-2005), editor and publisher Herman Obermayer has written a personal memoir of the nation's 16th chief justice. Rehnquist could seem forbidding (cutting off attorneys arguing before the Supreme Court in mid-sentence when their allotted time was up) and a bit of a stuffed robe (he designed and wore a special version of the judicial garment, with gold arm stripes). But in a vignette recounted by Obermayer, Rehnquist sounds like a pretty good guy to pop a brew and watch a football game with. This is just what he and Obermayer were doing when the subject of TV coverage of arguments before the Court came up. " 'Instant replay' would make Supreme Court viewing hugely popular," Obermayer writes of their fantasizing, "and several justices would become folk heroes and superstars. The justices . . . would change the oral argument format so that at the end of each half hour of oral argument, there would be a fifteen-minute break so the Court's John Madden would have time for a chalkboard analysis of the attorney's argument and the justices' queries." Not surprisingly in the light of riffs such as those, the Rehnquist Court defended itself against TV coverage, and so far the Roberts Court has held the line, too.

-- Dennis Drabelle

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