Of The Day
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Most recent past comment.

January 8, 1999

Here Comes The Judge.
He is only the sixteenth one, you know. Before him there was only (in order, top to bottom, left to right):

 John Jay  John Rutledge
 John Marshall  Roger B. Taney
 Salmon P. Chase  Morrison R. Waite
 Melville W. Fuller  Edward D. White
 William H. Taft  Charles E. Hughes
 Harlan F. Stone  Fred M. Vinson
 Earl Warren  Warren E. Burger

Only one President appointed three Chief Justices, George Washington. Only 13 of the next 41 presidents had the opportunity to appoint even one. Chief Justices are the rarest of birds in the Federal Government. The youngest Chief Justice was the first one, John Jay. He was 43. John Marshall, perhaps the greatest Chief Justice was 45. William H. Rehnquist was 61 and is in his 13th year of service as Chief. He served as an Associate Justice for 14 years before that. Only four other Chiefs served as Associate before taking the gavel. He is, by all accounts, a man of rigid routine and decorum, interrupting attorneys in mid-sentence with the fearful phrase, "Your time has expired." And now he follows in the uncertain footsteps of Salmon P. Chase, appointed in 1864 by President Lincoln, as the only other Chief Justice to be sworn in by the President Pro Tem of the Senate (Strom Thurmond acting in the place of Vice President Al Gore). He is also the first Chief Justice to actually have written a book about Impeachment, "Grand Inquests," (William Morrow, 1992). He is also the first Chief Justice to decorate his robes with the four gold stripes now becoming so famous. Prior to 1995, all Chief Justices wore the plain black robe.

Chief Justice Rehnquist is now 74, which is not particularly old for that office. He is the last remaining member of the Nixon Administration to still be serving actively in government. He was Assistant Attorney General and Legal Counsel. Nixon named him to the Court. And President Ronald Reagan appointed him as Chief Justice. He graduated from Stanford Law School in 1952, first in his class. Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman member of the Court and a distinguished Associate, was third in that same class. He is the only member of the Court who has never actually been a judge. He has migrated from the far, far right to a more moderate middle in his years on the Court, now mostly in the majority, rarely dissenting. He believes and continuously restates in his opinions that the Federal Government is one of limited powers, he is sympathetic to states in contests with the Federal Government, and that race should almost never be taken into account. "The highest end to which the state can serve is to serve no end at all, but merely exist as a means for individuals within it to realize their own ends."

There are currently two plans afoot for the trial, and it's all up to the Senate: Republican Plan, defense and House Republicans would have three days to present their cases. By a simple majority, senators would decide whether to hear witnesses. There would be time for senators to ask questions plus eight hours for closing remarks. Democrats Plan, each side would have two days to present its case. There would be two days of questions, three-hour closing arguments, and a one-hour House rebuttal. No witnesses would be called. There would be a test vote on the charges. The Conservative Plan, is an all-out trial with witnesses, rebuttals, polemics and partisanship, closing arguments and a go-for-broke vote on conviction or acquittal. I like that plan. As the saying goes, "Give them enough rope, and they'll hang themselves."

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