The Partisan: The Life of William Rehnquist (Hardcover)

The Life of William Rehnquist

By John A. Jenkins

PublicAffairs, 9781586488871, 330pp.

Publication Date: October 2, 2012



As a young lawyer practicing in Arizona, far from the political center of the country, William Hubbs Rehnquist's iconoclasm made him a darling of Goldwater Republicans. He was brash and articulate. Although he was unquestionably ambitious and extraordinarily self-confident, his journey to Washington required a mixture of good-old-boy connections and rank good fortune. An outsider and often lone dissenter on his arrival, Rehnquist outlasted the liberal vestiges of the Warren Court and the collegiate conservatism of the Burger Court, until in 1986 he became the most overtly political conservative to sit as chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Over that time Rehnquist's thinking pointedly did not--indeed, could not--evolve. Dogma trumped leadership. So, despite his intellectual gifts, Rehnquist left no body of law or opinions that define his tenure as chief justice or even seem likely to endure. Instead, Rehnquist bestowed a different legacy: he made it respectable to be an expedient conservative on the Court.

The Supreme Court now is as deeply divided politically as the executive and legislative branches of our government, and for this Rehnquist must receive the credit or the blame. His successor as chief justice, John Roberts, is his natural heir. Under Roberts, who clerked for Rehnquist, the Court remains unrecognizable as an agent of social balance. Gone are the majorities that expanded the Bill of Rights.

The Rehnquist Court, which lasted almost twenty years, was molded in his image. In thirty-three years on the Supreme Court, from 1972 until his death in 2005 at age 80, Rehnquist was at the center of the Court's dramatic political transformation. He was a partisan, waging a quiet, constant battle to imbue the Court with a deep conservatism favoring government power over individual rights.

The story of how and why Rehnquist rose to power is as compelling as it is improbable. Rehnquist left behind no memoir, and there has never been a substantial biography of him: Rehnquist was an uncooperative subject, and during his lifetime he made an effort to ensure that journalists would have scant material to work with. John A. Jenkins has produced the first full biography of Rehnquist, exploring the roots of his political and judicial convictions and showing how a brilliantly instinctive jurist, who began his career on the Court believing he would only ever be an isolated voice of right-wing objection, created the ethos of the modern Supreme Court.

About the Author

John A. Jenkins is president and publisher of CQ Press. His work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, GQ, the Washington Monthly, and the American Lawyer. He is a four-time recipient of the American Bar Association's Gavel Award Certificate of Merit, the highest award in legal journalism.

Praise For The Partisan: The Life of William Rehnquist

John W. Dean, author of The Rehnquist Choice and Nixon White House Counsel
“‘Partisan’ is the perfect title to describe the conservative ideologue who became the 16th Chief Justice of the United States.  And John Jenkins proves himself a perfect biographer in writing the first full non-legalistic look at this reclusive and enigmatic personality who pushed the nation's High Court to the political right. This is an important, engaging and informative read.”

Charles Lewis, Executive Editor, Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University
“THE PARTISAN is a terrific, timely and important book, meticulously researched and enthralling to read. How exactly did a segregationist and mere Assistant Attorney General become a Supreme Court Justice, let alone Chief Justice? John Jenkins' investigative biography is an inspired and authoritative work and a great public service.”

“A much-awarded legal journalist serves up an investigative biography of the controversial, late chief justice.”

Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog“Though it may not be cheered by Rehnquist fans, ‘The Partisan: The Life of William Rehnquist’ (PublicAffairs) is no quick hit job. Mr. Jenkins and his research assistants pored through Rehnquist archives and the papers of other justices to illuminate some little-known corners of Chief Justice Rehnquist’s life.”

Thomson Reuters “Jenkins's ‘The Partisan: The Life of William Rehnquist’ breaks new ground by unearthing the roots of Rehnquist's judicial dogma…Jenkins is a scalding critic of both Rehnquist's constitutional philosophy and of how the late chief justice put it to work. While the book is scrupulously documented, a product of well-tilled archives, interviews, audio analysis and FBI files, Jenkins doesn't spend much time plumbing the origins of that conservatism. But neither, he suggests, did Rehnquist.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Sure to incite passions among both conservative and liberal court watchers.”
“Jenkins illuminates both the human side of Rehnquist, his parsimony and addiction to prescription painkillers, and his judicial philosophy, which generated little in the way of law but which supported  a strong conservative court  agenda for 33 years.“
Library Journal
“Not only the story of the justice’s life and career, this book is also a portrait of 20th-century American politics.  Recommended for readers interested in the Supreme Court and U.S. politics.”   
New York Journal of Books “The strength of this book: The author focuses on the man and does not get mired in cases.”