The passage of time did not soften Sen. Edward Kennedy's hostility toward Chief Justice William Rehnquist, if Kennedy's memoir is any indication.
Kennedy, in a memoir published posthumously this week, argues that Rehnquist might not have been confirmed as an associate justice in 1971 if the Senate hadn't refused to confirm two of President Richard Nixon’s earlier Supreme Court nominees. The Senate, he writes, had “institutional reluctance to repudiate a president a third consecutive time.”
“The unfortunate result was, in my opinion, a justice whose record was disqualifying on its face,” Kennedy writes in True Compass.
Kennedy (D-Mass.) fought against Rehnquist’s confirmation in 1971. A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he continued his opposition when, in 1986, President Ronald Reagan proposed elevating Rehnquist to chief justice. Kennedy lost both battles, and he makes clear that he had no regret over his opposition and no praise — in the memoir, at least — for Rehnquist’s subsequent time on the Court.
If anything, Kennedy writes, he wishes he had opposed Rehnquist earlier in the process in 1971. He writes that he withheld forming an opinion until the confirmation hearing. “In retrospect, given the historic consequences, perhaps I should have pounced right away,” he writes. (Sixteen years later, when Reagan nominated Robert Bork, Kennedy spoke out within an hour.)
Much of the memoir’s criticism centers on Rehnquist’s views about race — a longstanding subject of dispute between his supporters and detractors. Kennedy recounts several allegations, including that Rehnquist, as a lawyer for the Arizona Republican Party, intimidated voters at the polls in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Rehnquist, in both of his confirmation hearings, denied challenging any voter, according to the 1992 book Turning Right.
The allegations, and others about race, should have been enough to sink Rehnquist’s first nomination, Kennedy argues.
“There was opposition fatigue, in the press, in the nation, and even in the Senate,” he writes. “No revelation of insensitivity on issues of race or violations of civil liberties seemed to resonate or stir opposition to Rehnquist.”
The hard feelings appear to have lingered even though Kennedy was dying of cancer — which Rehnquist also died from — when he wrote his memoir. After Rehnquist’s diagnosis was announced in 2004, Kennedy sent the chief justice a short, handwritten note expressing sadness and wishing Rehnquist a speedy recovery.
Earlier: Kennedy and the Anita Hill hearing.