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Supreme Court honors Rehnquist

Late chief justice remembered as brilliant and kindhearted

By Bill Mears

Supreme Court Justices enjoy a memorial service for the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.


Supreme Court
William H. Rehnquist

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court paid tribute to the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist on Thursday in a special memorial session attended by his family and hundreds of friends and colleagues.

Rehnquist's successor, Chief Justice John Roberts, led his fellow jurists in honoring the personal and judicial legacy of Rehnquist, who died last September of thyroid cancer.

"Over his years on the bench, Chief Justice Rehnquist brought sharp focus to his work," said Roberts, noting the "spareness" of his mentor's legal writings. Despite Rehnquist's often stern demeanor leading the court, Roberts recalled the gentle, humorous, and often quirky side of the man for whom he served as a law clerk in 1980.

"He is the only person I have ever seen who would lie on his stomach to set up a shot in croquet," added Roberts, bringing laughter from the audience.

The 20-minute afternoon session was attended by many of Rehnquist's longtime friends, including retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who served with him on the high court for 24 years. They were Stanford Law School classmates, and both later worked separately as lawyers in Phoenix. She did not speak during the ceremony.

Earlier, members of the Supreme Court Bar met at the court's Upper Great Hall and presented a resolution honoring Rehnquist.

Solicitor General Paul Clement, the principal government lawyer to argue before the justices, told the crowd of about 200 people that Rehnquist was a "treasured teacher, mentor and friend." He added: "The chief was a brilliant and kindhearted man who lacked all pretense. He will be greatly missed."

Thursday's memorial was the latest in a series of tributes honoring the 16th chief justice of the United States. A think tank on constitutional issues bearing his name was announced last month and will open this fall at the University of Arizona College of Law. It will be headed by Sally Rider, who served as Rehnquist's chief of staff for five years and serves in the same capacity now under Roberts.

Rehnquist's alma mater last week released a tribute issue of its law review that included his 1948 thesis on individual and moral rights, which had never been published.

"It was just fascinating reading to see someone before law school who later becomes the chief justice, walking through the contemporary theory of individual rights," said Christopher Walker, the review's managing editor at Stanford. "It seemed like the perfect way to give him a tribute, but also to contribute to the scholarship on the Rehnquist legacy."

The Wisconsin native died at age 80 after battling his illness for nearly a year, continuing to serve on the bench despite chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and the insertion of a trachea tube that made breathing and speaking difficult.

James Duff, Rehnquist's former chief of staff, recalled meeting with his onetime boss at the chief justice's chambers just a few days before his health finally gave out. "He continued to work almost until his dying day," said Duff, in admiration of Rehnquist's dedication to the business of the court.

Rehnquist became the country's 100th associate justice in 1972 and was elevated to the top spot in 1986. His more than a third of a century on the high court ranks seventh all time among justices.

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