Bench Memos

Slandering the Chief

Dana Mulhauser, a student at Harvard Law School, has an essay–“Person of Rank”–over at The New Republic Online arguing that the reason Chief Justice Rehnquist has not retired is because, in a nutshell, he’s full of himself, wants to be in charge, enjoys the limelight, is a self-promoter, etc. Look, it would be really cool to be published as a law student in the New Republic, but Mulhauser is–as anyone who knows the Chief knows — entirely wrong. He cites as evidence for his claim that the Chief has a “flair for the . . . self-congratulatory” the utterly unremarkable fact that he talked about his book on Charlie Rose’s show. Did Mulhauser see the show? I’m a big fan of the Chief, but “flair” was not the word that came to mind. He writes: “[Rehnquist] is reported to genuinely relish being the man in charge–peppering clerks with trivia questions and presiding jauntily over the Supreme Court Christmas party.” This is silly. What does banter about trivia with clerks–banter I recall from my law-clerk days being very low-key and fun–have to do with “being the man in charge”? And, for those of us who have actually been to the Court’s Christmas party, there’s nothing “jaunty”–just un-self-consciously enthusiastic and endearingly goofy–about the Chief’s carol-conducting. Mulhauser concludes: “Rehnquist knows his place in the world, and he revels in it. . . . This is not a man with any desire to rush from the limelight. This is a man who is Number One–and wants to make sure you know it.” This is nonsense. Period.

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