October 23, 2009
Chief Justice Roberts dedicates Stanford Law School's Rehnquist Courtyard
By Adam Gorlick
The names of most justices aren't easily recalled. And when they leave the bench either through retirement or death their names tend to quickly slip from memory. But things are likely to be different for William Rehnquist.
"He changed the way that law is considered," said Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., who succeeded Rehnquist after his death in 2005.
"Historians will not overlook Chief Justice Rehnquist," Roberts told about 400 Stanford Law School alumni on Friday. "They will talk about the effect of his presence on the court in strengthening the concept of federalism in the Constitution, in giving meaning to the concept of separation of powers and refining our notions of criminal law and procedures."
Roberts' comments came during a dedication of the William H. Rehnquist Courtyard, located in the center of the recently opened Munger Graduate Residence complex. The courtyard, with its towering palm trees and bas-relief of its namesake unveiled Friday, is the centerpiece of Stanford Law School's new campus.
The recently completed complex has five apartment buildings that house about 600 law students and graduate students. It was named in honor of Charles T. Munger, vice chair of Berkshire Hathaway, and his wife, Nancy B. Munger, '45, a former Stanford University trustee.
In 2004, the couple donated $43.5 million toward the project the largest gift ever earmarked for university housing at Stanford.
Rehnquist earned his bachelor's, master's and law degrees at Stanford, where he was a classmate of Sandra Day O'Connor, who also went on to the nation's highest court. He was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Richard Nixon in 1971, and was known for conservative judgments and narrow interpretation of the Constitution. He was one of two dissenting voices in Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that protects a woman's right to an abortion.
"Often as a lone dissenter, Justice Rehnquist articulated a way to think about the Constitution, about constitutional law and about the proper role of the court that had and continues to have a profound impact on our system," said Larry Kramer, dean of the Law School.
Rehnquist served as chief justice from 1986 to 2005 and was praised for reducing the number of cases the court agreed to hear, and for seeking clear, strongly reasoned opinions.
"Before him, arguments and briefs before the court were more freewheeling," said Roberts, a one-time Rehnquist clerk. "Chief Justice Rehnquist's approach in his opinions and his approach at oral argument focused on the more concrete building blocks of the law the language of a statute or a constitutional provision and the court's precedence in the particular area."
A follower in Rehnquist's conservative footsteps, Roberts clerked for him in 1980, a year after receiving a law degree from Harvard. President George W. Bush nominated him as chief justice when Rehnquist died four years ago.
Rehnquist's ties to Stanford ran deep. He hired clerks from the Law School, and his family donated his papers to the Hoover Institution last year.
The Hoover collection includes case and administrative files, speeches, book writings and calendars that span Rehnquist's 33 years on the court. The files are open to researchers, who Roberts said will "open up new insights into his contributions to our country."