Family, Peers Pay Respects to Rehnquist

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William H. Rehnquist, the nation's 16th chief justice, is laid to rest at Arlington Cemetery. Speaking at the funeral services, President Bush likened Rehnquist to Ronald Reagan, saying the chief justice carried himself with dignity but without pretense. He died over the weekend at age 80.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Susan Stamberg.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist was buried at Arlington Cemetery yesterday, next to his wife, near the graves of other justices and within sight of the Capitol. Earlier in the day, President Bush spoke at funeral services. Cameras and tape recorders were barred. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg was there.


The president called Rehnquist one of the great chief justices and paid tribute to him as a renaissance man who read and wrote books, adored his family, knew how to paint and how to win at bridge and poker. Likening Rehnquist to Ronald Reagan, Mr. Bush said that the chief justice carried himself with dignity but without pretense. Rehnquist, he said, was the rare man who held a prominent position in Washington for more than 30 years and left behind only good feelings and admiration.

The service, scripted in part by Rehnquist before his death, put the emphasis on family over officialdom and laughs over tears. Rehnquist's son, daughter and one of nine grandchildren remembered him as a father and grandfather, always willing to play with them, a man who advised graduating classes to stop and smell the roses in life and who, as son James put it, smelled more roses than anyone. As a youngster, Rehnquist would go down to the bus depot in Milwaukee and watch the buses the depart, James said, for exotic far-away places like Sheboygan and Duluth. As a grown-up, he would travel the world and make up age-appropriate quizzes for the grandchildren about the geography of the world. He loved music, his children said, and even when sickened by chemotherapy and radiation, he managed to attend his 50th performance of "The Messiah" at Christmastime.

It was Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, though, who most poignantly blended the official and the personal. She had known Rehnquist for almost 50 years, dating back to the time when the two were undergraduates at Stanford. They went on to law school together, even dated at one point, then with their spouses, both settled in Phoenix. They never imagined that either of them would ever serve on the Supreme Court, she said, but a decade after Rehnquist was nominated, so was O'Connor. And five years after that, Rehnquist was named Chief Justice by President Reagan.

`I grew up on a ranch,' said O'Connor, `where the really expert horse riders let the horse know immediately who's in control. But then they guide the horse with loose reins and very seldom used the spurs. So it was with our chief. He guided us with loose reins and used the spurs only rarely to get us up to speed with our work. He did not encourage long-winded debates among us,' said O'Connor. `Because he was concise, he thought we should be, too. He never twisted arms,' she said. `He relied on the power of his arguments to win both. And he was always fair. Thanks to him, relations among the members of the court have been remarkably harmonious considering our different viewpoints,' she said. `He has enabled the court to serve the role envisioned by the framers of the Constitution.'

`Courageous in the face of the deadly cancer that finally killed him, Rehnquist never lost his sense of humor,' said O'Connor. As the chief was being examined in the local hospital emergency room in the final week of his life, the examining physician asked him who his primary care doctor was. `My dentist,' he struggled to say with a twinkle in his eye. As O'Connor observed, Rehnquist was a betting man. He made wagers on sports, elections, even snowfall. `If you value your money, she said, `you would be careful about betting with the chief. He usually won. I think he'd bet he could live out another term despite his illness,' O'Connor said. He lost that bet, as did all of us, but he won the prizes for a life well lived.

Concluding her remarks, O'Connor used the words Rehnquist so often uttered in the courtroom. `Counsel, your red light is on. Your time is up.' Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

STAMBERG: Among those paying respects to Rehnquist yesterday, his former clerk, John Roberts, who has been nominated to be the next chief justice. The Senate will begin confirmation hearings on Monday. Democratic senators questioning Roberts will walk a fine line, challenging a man with whom they may not agree. Roberts is, by most accounts, a reliable conservative, but he's also a man with impeccable legal credentials--Harvard Law School, a Supreme Court clerkship and more than 30 appearances as an attorney before the high court.

MONTAGNE: Liberal groups have learned this lesson already. NARAL, the pro-choice activist group, had to withdraw an ad it ran linking John Roberts to violent anti-abortion activists. It was criticized even by its political allies for going too far.

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