William Rehnquist, In His Own Words

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One of the most historic moments in Chief Justice William Rehnquist's tenure came in 1999 as he presided over the Senate impeachment trial of then-President Bill Clinton. We hear Rehnquist's concluding remarks at that proceeding.


Chief Justice Rehnquist was known as a great legal intellect; also, as a man with a sly sense of humor. Both are evident in these remarks which he made six years ago. This was after he presided as judge in the US Senate during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. And at the end of that proceeding, he left the senators with these words.

Chief Justice WILLIAM REHNQUIST: The chair wishes to make a brief statement, without objection, I trust.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Chief Justice REHNQUIST: More than a month ago I first came here to preside over the Senate, sitting as a court of impeachment. I was a stranger to the great majority of you. I underwent the sort of culture shock that naturally occurs when one moves from the very structured environment of the Supreme Court to what I shall call, for want of a better phrase, `the more free-formed environment of the Senate.'

I leave you now a wiser, but not a sadder, man. I have been impressed by the manner in which the majority leader and the minority leader have agreed on procedural rules in spite of the differences that separate their two parties on matters of substance. I've been impressed by the quality of the debate in closed session on the entire question of impeachment as provided for in the Constitution. Agreed-upon procedures for airing substantive divisions must be the hallmark of any great deliberative body.

Our work as a court of impeachment is now done. I leave you with the hope that our several paths may cross again under happier circumstances.

CHADWICK: The late Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist, speaking to the Senate in 1999. Mr. Rehnquist died Saturday at the age of 80. He'll be buried on Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery.

I'm Alex Chadwick. NPR's DAY TO DAY continues.

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