Rehnquist's Court: Tuning Out The White House

The New York Times Magazine
September 11, 1988

CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAM HUBBS REHNQUIST stared stonily out at the crowd in the marble-columned chamber from the Supreme Court's center chair, the chair in which Ronald Reagan had put him two years before. It was June 29, the last day of the Court's 1987-88 term, and one decision remained to be handed down - the big one.


"Number 87-1279," the Chief Justice began. Methodically, he summarized the background of this momentous challenge to the Federal independent prosecutor law, brought by the Administration and by former top Reagan aides caught in the law's toils. The Watergate-inspired law - which provides for a special court to appoint prosecutors independent of the executive branch to investigate alleged crimes by top Federal officials - stood as an affront to the sweeping, unfettered vision of Presidential power that has become part of today's conservative political creed. Administration conservatives hated it with a burning passion. Now Rehnquist, their choice for Chief Justice, was announcing the Court's opinion, making it clear that he had written it himself.


Finally, he reached the question on which his audience hung. "We now reverse the Court of Appeals in an opinion joined by seven members of the Court," he said, "and uphold the validity of the independent counsel provisions of the Ethics in Government Act."