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(DV) Whitney: Rehnquist Paved the Way for the Imperial Presidency







Rehnquist Paved the Way for the Imperial Presidency
by Mike Whitney
September 5, 2005

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“He was a man of character and dedication. His departure represents a great loss for the court and for our country.”

-- George W. Bush, on hearing of the death of Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist

Let’s not wring out the tears for William Rehnquist. The man was the worst Chief Justice to ever serve on the Supreme Court; a complete failure who disgraced his office and the people he was supposed to serve. Never in the 200-year history of the nation has the high court sustained more damage under the stewardship of one man.

Rehnquist’s partisan handiwork rigged the 2000 election and set the country in a downward spiral to ruin. He cobbled together the coalition of rogue jurists who stripped the Florida Supreme Court of their Constitutionally-guaranteed right to decide the outcome of state elections and overturned the fundamental principle of democratic government: the right to have one’s vote counted.

Rehnquist invoked the 14th amendment, the “equal protection,” clause to elevate his friend George W. Bush to president. Prior to that, the amendment had never even been used in cases other than racial discrimination. Legal scholars and attorneys alike scoffed at the shaky reasoning that held the case together. It was a complete travesty that both Republicans and Democrats disdained. Rehnquist abandoned every principle of judicial impartiality to shoehorn a derelict Texan into the Oval Office and to uphold his standing as a charter member of the ruling class.

Look at the results.

Look what happens when the will of the people is brazenly ignored to execute an elite agenda.

Iraq, the Cheney Energy papers, 9-11, Enron, Valerie Plame, Abu Ghraib, Falluja, Guantanamo; the long litany of Bush crimes should be inscribed on Rehnquist’s headstone next to the number of casualties produced by his partisan blunder.

Rehnquist was an ardent class warrior from his earliest days on the court. He strongly opposed gay rights, abortion, gun control and affirmative action, but was a staunch proponent of the death penalty. This tells us that his sense of justice was shaped by his belief in punishment, not mercy. Although Rehnquist would zealously defend the right of the state to exterminate its own citizens, he vacillated on even most basic rights of the individual.

In case after case, the Rehnquist Court bowed to the authority of the president, allowing Bush to detain foreign nationals without formally charging them with a crime and permitting the incarceration of “enemy combatants” indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay subject to a review by handpicked military tribunals.

Rehnquist has repeatedly dodged the Jose Padilla case to allow the president the tyrannical power of imprisoning an American citizen without honoring habeas corpus, due process, or the presumption of innocence. His evasion has upended the fundamental principle of “inalienable rights,” the cornerstone of the Constitution, and condemned an innocent man to three and a half years in solitary confinement.

Padilla has never been charged with a crime. It is a disgrace that should enrage every American.

Justice John Paul Stevens summarized the feelings of most Americans who reject the idea that citizens can be stripped of their rights according to presidential edict. He said, the results of the Padilla case pose “a unique and unprecedented threat to the freedom of every American citizen... At stake is nothing less than the essence of a free society... For if this Nation is to remain true to the ideals symbolized by its flag, it must not wield the tools of tyrants even to resist an assault by the forces of tyranny.”

Rehnquist had every opportunity to watch Bush’s dismal war on terror. He knew that the “forces of tyranny” had been greatly exaggerated to carry out a global-militaristic strategy. Nevertheless, he consistently chose to bolster the powers of the executive rather than defend the basic rights of the citizen.

Rehnquist fancied himself a “strict constructionist,” a judge who simply applied the Constitution according to its literal meaning. As it turns out, he was entirely unwilling to defend any part of the Bill of Rights (excluding the revered 2nd Amendment) and significantly eroded the institution he was supposed to preserve.

Forget the state ceremonies for the deceased Chief Justice. Just put a crease in the soil at Potter’s field and kick a few leaves over the hardening carcass.

If it was up to me, Rehnquist would never be buried on American soil. The man betrayed his country and his name should be struck from the history books.

He did nothing to shore up civil liberties or to preserve the constitution. His tenure at the high court merely paved the way for the Imperial Presidency and the further savaging of the rule of law.

Let Bush and his ilk sing Rehnquist’s praises. What difference does it make? The man was a miserable American and a dead loss as a Chief Justice.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at:

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