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The Lone Ranger’s Legacy

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, R.I.P.

After serving for more than three decades on the U.S. Supreme Court, Chief Justice William Rehnquist died on Saturday, September 3, at the age of 80, having lost his battle with thyroid cancer.  With Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s recent announcement of her retirement, there are now two vacant seats on the Court.  Just over a day after Rehnquist’s death, President Bush announced his nomination of Judge John Roberts (whom he had formerly nominated to replace Justice O’Connor) as the next chief justice.  As the Bush White House prepares for nasty confirmation fights, pundits and scholars are reflecting on Rehnquist’s legacy.

Although the Rehnquist Court has left its imprint on criminal law, affirmative action, and a host of other areas, it will forever be associated with federalism.  Chief Justice Rehnquist’s enemies on the left accuse him of leading a constitutional revolution that curtailed the powers of Congress.  The enervated Articles of Confederation, we are told, have replaced the Constitution of 1787.

His critics on the right complain that the federalism revolution is better described as an unsuccessful skirmish.  They also take umbrage at Rehnquist’s constitutional “flexibility,” which he exhibited in Dickerson v. United States (2000), in which he affirmed that police officers must read suspects their Miranda...

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