1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
, April 7, 2011
This review is from: Rehnquist: A Personal Portrait of the Distinguished Chief Justice of the United States (Hardcover)
This is the biography of a friendship. It is charming, honest and informative. Although it is about the man, not the Chief Justice, it will be an essential reference to any future biographer, since it reveals the man the way a more general biography would not.
One is amused by such things as the Chief Justice's taste in low brow movies (nothing too bad, just standard Hollywood junk). When Laurence Tribe was leading the smear campaign against Robert Bork, Democratic operatives broke into Bork's local video store to see what sort of movies he watched. Embarassingly for them, Bork's tastes ran to opera and highbrow cinema, but I wonder what would have happened if they broke into Rehnquist's video store instead?
Mr. Obermeier also points out that the Chief Justice was extraordinarily prescient about the books he wrote. He wrote about impeachment before he had to preside over a rare impeachment trial, about the conflict between liberty and wartime necessity before 9/11. Talk about being ahead of the curve!
The book generally stays out of politics, so much so that a good deal of the book could apply to a Justice on the left, but occasionally, the author mentions one of the major events the Chief Justice was professionally involved in and here the author excels. Interestingly, the Chief Justice believed, for instance, that there were times when it was right to impeach and also right to acquit after impeachment.
This is quite true. Mr. Obermeier doesn't discuss this, but although there was a delicious irony in the fact that President Clinton himself signed the law which gave courts the power to investigate all aspects of a person's sexlife, the impeachment was really as much about Monica Lewinsky as Al Capone's trial was about tax evasion. The real target was President Clinton's sale of military secrets to China for personal gain. Thereafter, the President was a blackmail victim of the PRC. One of the reasons why our relations with India were so strained by 2000 is that the Chinese government made Clinton side with them on everything from trade to nuclear testing. This couldn't very well be the stated subject of the impeachment, but the impeachment had the same effect. After 1999, China could no longer make President Clinton their puppet.
But this gets us well beyond the scope of the book, which tries, very successfully, to capture the essence of an important government official. In the process, it reveals the character of the author himself, who reveals himself to be kind but honest, brilliant but modest, an ideal friend. It says a lot about Chief Justice Rehnquist that he could attract a friend like Mr. Obermeier.
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