Delay Is Good

Chief Justice of the United States William Rehnquist departs his home in Arlington, Va., Monday morning, July 11, 2005. Rehnquist, 80 years old and fighting cancer, is keeping quiet about whether he will join Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in leaving the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
This column was written by Douglas W. Kmiec.
The chief justice has not retired -- and says he has no intention to anytime soon. The decision is most honorable -- indeed, given his illness, self-less, if not near heroic.

I am certain the chief's statement is much to the relief of the president. It should be of relief to us all, since it lessens what was becoming all too apparent -- that every factor in the nomination process was going to use multiple vacancies to politically horse-trade to the ultimate disadvantage of the integrity of the Court. With a single vacancy, it is now possible for president and Senate alike to assess the individual merits of an appointment, without succumbing to the powerful pressures of interest groups which would have sought to balance the "ticket," at the cost of merit.

When William Rehnquist sat down to pen a history of the Supreme Court in the late 1980s, he reflected on how Alexander Hamilton viewed the Court as the "least dangerous branch." Given the overriding dominance of the Court in modern times, Hamilton seems the least prophetic Founding Father. Rehnquist is far more realistic.

Rehnquist's association with the Court dates back to 1952, when this young Milwaukeean by way of Stanford Law arrived to take a coveted clerkship with New Dealer Robert H. Jackson. Law-clerk Rehnquist records that his California car had no heater -- optional equipment in those days -- but as fortune would have it, he would supply his own jurisprudential heat.