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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 September 2005, 06:59 GMT 07:59 UK
Legacy of William Rehnquist
US Chief Justice William Rehnquist has died aged 80, after a 33-year Supreme Court career.

Rehnquist at the inauguration of President George W Bush
Mr Rehnquist's physical frailty had left many questioning his ability to continue

He has been called "a bugbear of liberals for four decades" and he will be remembered as a staunch conservative - but also as a consensus-builder.

His opinions have made history.

He was one of the justices who sided with President Bush in the contested 2000 election.

One of his most famous moments came in 1999 when President Clinton faced an impeachment trial over his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Chief Justice Rehnquist headed the proceedings and delivered the verdict that saved a president.

Abortion ruling

Mr Rehnquist, 80, was a dyed-in-the-wool Republican. A Harvard-educated Lutheran, he came to prominence in the legal profession while practising in Arizona in the 1950s and 1960s.

Pro and anti-abortion activists outside Supreme Court
The issues surrounding Roe vs Wade still resonate

In 1969 he was appointed assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel by the then-President Richard Nixon.

Two years later, Nixon promoted him to the highest court in America and in 1986 President Ronald Reagan named him chief justice.

In the 1950s he opposed school desegregation, backing instead "separate but equal" education for different races.

During the Nixon years he was a vigorous supporter of practices in the president's "law and order" programme, such as pre-trial detention, electronic surveillance and wire-tapping.

In 1973 he was a dissenting voice in the landmark case that legalised abortion, Roe vs Wade.

It is an issue that still resonates. Pressure groups even stepped up their campaigns as the prospect of new vacancies in the Supreme Court loomed.

Some fear the Bush administration is only interested in replacements who are anti-abortion and could therefore overturn Roe vs Wade.

Death penalty

But while Mr Rehnquist remained judicially and politically conservative, he built consensus in numerous cases, and rarely struck out on his own.

He was known as a staunch opponent of affirmative action, gay rights and greater rights for criminal suspects, while backing the death penalty and greater ties between church and state.

For example, although opposed to the constitutionalisation of the doctrine in Miranda v Arizona (1966) - giving suspects the right to a warning that their statements might be used against them - he wrote the Court's opinion confirming the constitutional basis of "Miranda".

Another clear legacy of the Rehnquist court is its contribution to accelerating the pace of executions in the United States.

In tandem with Congress the court he oversaw some key steps during the 1980s and 1990s to reduce time-consuming death row appeals.


Mr Rehnquist's physical frailty in recent years had left many questioning his ability to continue as chief justice.

While this private man would never publicly discuss the prospect of resignation, he spent little working time with his fellow justices since his cancer was diagnosed in late 2004.

At his final presidential inauguration in January 2005 - the key ceremonial duty of all chief justices of the United States - he was only able to administer the oath with the help of a tube attached to his throat.

Chief Justice Rehnquist was a popular historian of the Supreme Court, and the author of three books on its history.

He married Natalie Cornell in 1953. She died in 1991. They had three children.

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