Monday, September 05, 2005

On Chief Justice Rehnquist's initial appointment to the Supreme Court

Here are five incredible pages of transcripts and recordings of telephone conversations between President Nixon and Attorney General Mitchell about filling the two open seats on the Supreme Court, one that went to Lewis Powell. The other came down to a choice between William Rehnquist and Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee. Evidently, Baker was willing to take the job, but was done in by the fact that he and Powell were both Southerners, plus Nixon liked the idea of thrusting a well-qualified unknown on the legal establishment.

According to this exchange, Nixon was delighted to catch the pundits by surprise with the choice of Rehnquist:

"President Nixon: ...But on the other hand, we really threw a bombshell at these bastards tonight, didn't we?

John Mitchell: We really did--

RMN: What do you think?

JM: Well, let me tell you, they were just so flabbergasted they didn't know what to say...

RMN: Are they?...Of course, that first in his class is what these goddamn snobs - that's what impresses them. And law clerk to Jackson, that impressed Meany, they tell me...

RMN: This means, John, that we will have appointed four good men. Everybody recognizes that Burger is a good man, Blackmun is a good man, Powell, a course, everyone will recognize it. And Rehnquist is the smartest of the whole goddamn bunch

JM: (Unintelligible)

RMN: (Laughs) And he's on our side, isn't he?

JM: I think you did a great thing for the court.

RMN: I really built them up. You know, and I talked about respect the law, whether you agree and obey the law and all that. And they oughta appreciate it, the bastards-

JM: Well they should, and said it in a very mild mannered way. You got across to the American public

RMN: Be sure to emphasize to all the Southerners that Rehnquist is a reactionary bastard, which I hope to Christ he is. In a pure press sense, it's like China--the bastards were completely taken by surprise. They didn't know what the hell was gonna hit 'em. Ha! Doesn't that amuse you? We kept it quiet..."

I suspect that if and when he ever read these word, Rehnquist found something amusing in these manic and ironic comments by President Nixon.

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