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The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment That Redefined the Supreme Court Hardcover – September 26, 2001
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From Library Journal
One of the central figures of President Nixon's Watergate scandal sets out to describe how William Hubbs Rehnquist, at the time an obscure Justice Department attorney, came to be appointed to the Supreme Court, later to become Chief Justice. White House counsel Dean takes regretful credit for having suggested Rehnquist because the latter was a strict constructionist (and very conservative), exceedingly talented, a writer of great lucidity, and blessed with a distinguished background that included being first in his class at Stanford Law School and clerking for Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. Dean was there, of course, and also has access to verbatim transcripts of the time. And so we hear Nixon and company's banal and repetitive discussions interweaving political considerations-regional balance, gender, and race concerns, for example-with rants about political philosophy and enemies. This is the sort of audiobook that does not benefit from histrionics, and reader Michael Rafkin does a good job, though this reviewer regretted his attempts at Nixon impersonation. Still, the book has been widely praised, and this audio version belongs in collections of modern political history.
Don Wismer, Cary Memorial Lib., Wayne, ME
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Robert D. Novak National Review The inside look at chaos in deciding who should fill Supreme Court vacancies is a delight....Dean has performed a valuable service in recording Nixon's tortuous course to a decision.
David Greenberg The Washington Monthly The most detailed behind-the-scenes account ever written of a high court nomination...impressive for many reasons: its lucid prose, its subtle humor, its relentlessly logical argumentation...a terrific page-turner.
Garrett Epps The Washington Post Watergate buffs will find [The Rehnquist Choice] jolly nostalgic fun. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Dean brings us inside the "vetting" process used by the White House staff and Justice Department to select nominees to the Court. Dean floated the name of Rehnquist to several in the administration, including then Attorney General John Mitchell, as a possible conservative candidate for the Court as Dean had worked with Rehnquist in the Justice Department and learned of the Rehnquist's strict constructionist interpretation of the constitution. What was fascinating was that Rehnquist while toiling away at the Justice Department was tasked with "vetting' the other possible Court nominees chosen by the White House. Sounds much like the recent scenario of the selection of Dick Cheney as Vice President.
The book details the other nominees Rehnquist beat out for the coveted position. If anyone believes that politics plays no part in the selection of the members of the Court, then this is required reading. At times humorous and at times self-serving, this book is well worth the purchase. If you are not a Court watcher don't worry, you don't have to be to appreciate this book. Dean is a good writer and the text flows easily. Add "The Rehnquist Choice" to your summer reading list - you will gain an appreciation of the importance of Presidential nominations to the Court.
The book begins by telling how Nixon virtually created the first two vacancies. Essentially, Nixon encouraged Senate republicans to fillibuster the elevation of Abe Fortas to the Chief Justice position. Once in office, Nixon's men then staged a PR campaign to discredit Fortas, causing him to announce his retirement. Ironically, the legal precedent for investigating Fortas' business dealings was based on a memo written by Rehnquist.
If anyone should be entitled to write this story, it is John Dean. At the time, Dean was Council to the President, and it was he that first brought up Rehnquist's name, mostly as a fanciful suggestion. He recounts his experiences vetting candidates and some of his conversations as reconstructed from notes and memory. Primarily, however, the book is based on Nixon's tape recorded conversations in the oval office. Dean has done a good job editing these transcripts so as to maintain sufficient context without dragging them out too long.
What emerges in these conversations is a series of bungled operations and imprudent decisions. Before Lewis and Rehnquist were finally selected in the final two days before their names were announced, the administration actually selected four other candidates. Two were rejected by the Senate, and the other two (including a woman) were deemed unqualified by the ABA (although from the sounds of it, the female candidate, Mildred Lillie, was fairly qualified but discriminated against by the all-male panel). John Mitchell and his assistant Rehnquist did an abysmal job vetting candidates, so much so that Dean and another lawyer were sent by John Ehrlichman to independently interview the candidates in more depth. And Nixon himself seemed to base his choices on hearsay and surface biographical snippets, like the candidates' class rank or the school they graduated from. He paid very little attention to the candidates' actual writings or opinions.
One of the incidental but nevertheless shocking revelations in the book is the deep extent of Nixon's sexism. Recent tapes have revealed his racism and anti-semitism, but his low opinion of women is repeated time and again in the transcripts. For example he is quoted as saying "I don't even think women should be educated!" and "I don't think a woman should be in any government job whatever."
In the book's afterword, Dean makes a compelling case that Rehnquist lied under oath during his confirmation hearings, both when he was initially confirmed in 1971, and then again in 1986 when Reagan nominated him to Chief Justice. At issue were Rehnquist's activities in Arizona during the 1960's preventing minorities from voting, and a controversial memo he wrote while clerking for Justice Robert Jackson in which he urged Jackson to vote to maintain segregated schools in the historic "Brown vs. Board of Education" case. Dean argues that if Rehnquist had been better vetted and prepared for his initial confirmation hearings, he would have had ready answers to these questions. Instead, he was caught off guard and ended up lying in 1971, and then lying again in 1986 to maintain the original lies.
Due to Rehnquist's dishonesty and the profound effect of his rulings on the high court, Dean openly regrets ever having suggested Rehnquist's name to Nixon staffers. Although this fascinating book is about far more than just Nixon's selection of Rehnquist, clearly that selection was the most important from a historical perspective. In a sense, this book is Dean's act of repentance for his role in the Rehnquist choice.