Monday, September 06, 2010

The Supreme Court: William Rehnquist

Very worthy read on the history of the court. Here is an excerpt written by John Marshall as part of Marbury vs Madison, one of the key cases in court history:

The distinction between a government with limited and unlimited powers is abolished, if those limits do not confine the persons on whom they are imposed, and if acts prohibited and acts allowed, are of equal obligation. It is a proposition too plain to be contested, that the constitution controls andy legislative act repugnant to it; or, that the legislature may alter the constitution by an ordinary act. 
Between these alternatives there is no middle ground. The constitution is either a superior paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means, or it is on a level with ordinary legislative acts, and, like other acs it is alterable when the legislature shall place to alter it.

But of course, today, basically since the '30s, the congress is no longer limited, so we now have UNlimited government. Rehnquist doesn't go there at all -- he provides the history of what happened, but there is very little in the way of his opinion. One of the most interesting parts for me was the way that the cases are decided -- lots of prep work by the justices and law clerks, but then, with ONLY the justices in the Chief Justices conference room, the Chief starts out with his analysis of the case and how is is going to vote and then it proceeds to each justice in order of seniority to have their say. I found the following comment interesting ... especially as Rehnquist had moved all the way from the most junior to being Chief.
Probably most junior justices before me must have felt as I did, that they had some very significant contributions to make, and were disappointed that they hardly ever seemed to influence anyone because people didn't change their votes in response to their, the junior justices, contrary views. 
This book is what it says it is -- history, from an insider. There is VERY little in the way of opinion. These are the justices involved, these are the key cases (as seen by Rehnquist), here is how they were decided, some of the key reasoning for and in dissent, and how the court works from the inside.

I found it an easy and good read, but the only "answers" in it (NOT stated by Rehnquist) is that the power of the court has increased, the constitution has decreased, and the power of the government in general has grown most of all.

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