During his 14 years on the court, Chief Justice-designate William H. Rehnquist has written hundreds of opinions, dissents and speeches. Here are some highlights.
DISCRIMINATORY PRIVATE SCHOOLS: In 1983, Rehnquist was the lone dissenter when the court repudiated Reagan administration arguments and ruled unequivocally that the government can and should withhold tax benefits from private schools that violate a "fundamental national public policy" by practicing racial discrimination. The ruling upheld the Internal Revenue Service's denial of exemptions to two schools. In Bob Jones University v. U.S., Rehnquist said that only Congress -- not the IRS -- is empowered to define the requirements for tax-exempt status. "Regardless of our view on the propriety of Congress' failure to legislate, we are not constitutionally empowered to act for them."SCHOOL PRAYER: Rehnquist was one of three dissenters to the court's 1985 reaffirmation of its ban on state-sponsored prayer in public schools. In Wallace v. Jaffree, Rehnquist argued that the court should uphold the Alabama law that required a moment of silence each day for meditation or prayer. He wrote that no part of the Constitution "prohibits any such generalized 'endorsement' of prayer . . . .
"POWERS OF THE STATES: In 1976, with Rehnquist writing one of his most famous opinions, the court for the first time attempted to carve out areas of state government that are constitutionally protected from federal intervention and regulation. In National League of Cities v. Usery, a 5-to-4 court struck down federal wage and hour standards for state and local government employes, asserting they invaded state sovereignty. It was his major foray on behalf of "federalism" and was celebrated by local and state officials as the beginning of a new era of independence from the federal government. Last year, however, the court overturned that decision with Rehnquist, this time in the minority, promising that the last word on the issue had not been spoken.
INDEPENDENCE OF STATE COURTS: Rehnquist has repeatedly asserted that the Supreme Court should generally refrain from interfering with the affairs of the 50 state court systems. Nowhere was that view more apparent than in his dissent from a 1980 decision in Richmond Newspapers Inc. v. Virginia requiring open trials in most situations. "To gradually rein in, as this court has done over the past generation, all of the ultimate decision-making power over how justice shall be administered, not merely in the federal system but in each of the 50 states, is a task that no court consisting of nine persons, however gifted, is equal to . . . . Nor is it desirable that such authority be exercised by such a tiny numerical fragment of the 220 million people who compose the population of this country."
He went on to satirize the views of the majority with this excerpt from Gilbert and Sullivan:
"The law is the true embodiment
Of everything that's excellent,
It has no kind of fault or flaw,
And I, my lords, embody the law."
INDEPENDENCE OF REGULATORY AGENCIES: In 1978, Rehnquist spoke from the bench of "judicial intervention run riot" in denouncing federal appeals courts that are quick to second-guess rulings of federal regulatory agencies. Writing for the court majority, he said the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia "improperly intruded" into the regulatory sphere when it overturned the Atomic Energy Commission's decision to license a nuclear power plant.
"The fundamental policy questions appropriately resolved in Congress and in the state legislatures are not subject to reexamination in the federal courts under the guise of judicial review of agency action," he wrote in Vermont Yankee Nuclear Corp. v. Natural Resources Defense Council. "Time may prove wrong the decision to develop nuclear energy, but it is Congress or the states within their appropriate agencies which must eventually make that judgment."
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: A strenuous opponent of affirmative action goals, Rehnquist dissented from the court's 1979 opinion in United Steelworkers of America v. Weber, a major ruling upholding private affirmative action programs. He said the majority opinion was "ahead of its time. It could more appropriately have been handed down five years from now, in 1984 . . . . There is perhaps no device more destructive to the notion of equality than the . . . quota.
WOMEN'S RIGHTS: In 1981, Rehnquist wrote the majority opinion that upheld excluding women from the military draft registration, a case that had become a symbol for the women's movement. "The case arises in the context of Congress' authority over national defense and military affairs, and perhaps in no other area has the court accorded Congress greater deference," he wrote.
Five years earlier, in Craig v. Boren, Rehnquist dissented when the court said that laws containing distinctions between men and women would have to pass heightened scrutiny by the courts in order to pass constitutional muster. The doctrine became the legal basis for overturning numerous laws on the grounds that they discriminated against women. Rehnquist strenuously opposed the new doctrine.
"The Court's conclusion that a law which treats males less favorably than females 'must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to achievement of those objectives' apparently comes out of thin air. The Equal Protection Clause contains no such language, and none of our previous cases adopt that standard."
NIXON PAPERS: Rehnquist dissented from the court's 1977 decision in Nixon v. Administrator of General Services allowing the General Services Administration custody over presidential papers. "Unfortunately, today's decision countenances the power of any future Congress to seize the official papers of an outgoing president as he leaves the inaugural stand," Rehnquist wrote. "In so doing, it poses a real threat to the ability of future presidents to receive candid advice and to give candid instructions. This result, so at odds with our previous case law on the separation of powers, will daily stand as a veritable sword of Damocles over every succeeding president and his advisers."
DEFENDANTS' RIGHTS: In 1984, the Supreme Court created a new exception to the controversial Miranda rule with Rehnquist writing for the majority, holding that in cases where the public safety appears endangered, police may question a suspect before warning him of his rights.
"We do not believe that the Miranda doctrine require s 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," Rehnquist wrote in New York v. Quarles.
THE BILL OF RIGHTS: In a speech at the University of Missouri in 1980, Rehnquist said he was weary of the view of the Constitution as nothing but the Bill of Rights.
The Constitution does "contain important guarantees of individual rights against action by federal and state governments," he said. "But the Constitution as a whole is a charter . . . which created a national government and empowered it to limit not only the authority of states but the liberties of individuals."