Rehnquist: the Chief Injustice


William Rehnquist, lay in state in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court. Dead at last, dead at last.

Let us remember him. He stood tall-and faced backward. He turned back the hands of the clock. He helped push back the tides of time. Though he wore a robe and sat on a high bench in a great room with tall ceilings and dark wood in a building made of white stone, let us remember, he was not afraid to strike down at the weak.

If we have much injustice in this country, let us remember, he was in his time the chief injustice.

William Rehnquist. Let’s remember him. He never flinched. He never hesitated to use power against the powerless, or might against the underdog. He struck a blow against African Americans, opposing the expansion of desegregation. He took a swing at women; dissenting in Roe v. Wade, arguing to deny women the right to chose. He hit out against the poor, the uneducated, and people of color, by supporting the death penalty.

He was not a man for all times, he was not even a man for our time-he was a blast from the past. He argued for states’ rights against the Federal government. He argued against the separation of church and state, and for public tax money for religious schools and religious prayers in the public schools. He loved our country, loved it not as it was, but as it might have been–had it never had the Civil Rights movement or perhaps the Civil War.

Whatever may be said against him, no one will deny, however, that he never let his class down. During his tenure as Justice and then as Chief Justice, the Court took no important decision that would have advanced working people or the poor. The Court made no decisions that would have helped labor unions or the environmental movement. The Court never stopped a tax cut, never criticized a law to make a war. The Court did not stop the systematic incarceration of black men, nor end the violence in the prisons. When an election was mismanaged and democracy made a mockery, the Chief Justice did not hesitate to throw the election to his party and its candidate, our president.

Though he dressed like an opera buffa Judge from the commedia dell’arte, putting golden chevrons on his sleeves to elevate his rank above his peers, he was no clown. Whatever else may be said of him, he knew who his friends were, he knew which side he was on-and it wasn’t ours.

Let us remember him. He was no mediocre man. Where others had merely done poorly, he did bad. When he found things bad, and left them worse. Appointed to the Court in the 1970s and serving into the 21st century, he helped to drive us back to the 1950s, and in some areas to the nineteenth century. We will not see his like again-until tomorrow and Chief Justice Roberts.

The Republican Court and Revolution

The Court, Rehnquist’s Court, did not give us justice. But that was not because we did not have enough Democrats on the Supreme Court.

To get justice we do not need liberals on the Supreme Court, and if we did, we would not need the Democratic Party in power to select them. Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, remember, appointed Earl Warren to be Chief Justice of the Court, the most liberal court of the 20th century, that ushered in Civil Rights with Brown v. Board of Education. The Democrats did not give us the liberal Court, poor people did, millions of poor people in motion.

All institutions, even those made of stone, respond to pressure and give way to the tide of the times. The Warren Court reflected the changing times-Asia and Africa ascending, Latin America in rebellion, revolutions in the Third World. Independence for India, and Indonesia, revolution in China, the African decolonization. Algeria and Vietnam at war against the French, and the French (Europe!) defeated. The great revolutionary upsurge around the world shook the foundations of the court.

And at home, the returning black veterans, because they had fought for freedom in Europe, believed they did not have to live with oppression at home. The country saw the early stirring of civil rights in the South before Montgomery. Black men, women, and children in the church and soon in the streets, poor people in motion that’s what moved the Court.

We will not get a liberal Court through the Democratic Party, which never was so liberal, which today is not liberal at all. And if we were to get a liberal Court, we would not have what we wanted anyway. A liberal court would still be the Court, still be a damn against democracy, a dike against the people.

But, if what we want is not a liberal court but real change, then we need once again to put pressure on the institution-we need Asia and Africa ascending, Latin American in rebellion, and the stirrings of civil rights at home, again.

The Pressure is Building

And the hopeful thing is that the pressure is building. The pressure is building with the crew of Camp Casey and every appearance of Cindy Sheehan. The pressure is building with the tragedy of New Orleans, the failure of the United States, and the solidarity of working class and poor people in the midst of this disaster. The pressure is building with the Latin American nations rejecting the Washington Consensus and foreign corporate control over their lives. The pressure is building with resistance in the Arab and Muslim world to the American intrusion in their societies.

Our task is to contribute to these movements, to increase the pressure, to shake the stones of the Court and to sweep away injustice. We will not do it, however, without a movement that stands for a new society.

We need the reconstruction of America on a new basis of social solidarity and democracy. We do not need the selection of a more liberal justice to the court. We need a more democratic society without such a court, a society where representative institutions reflect the needs and desires of ordinary people, and where beyond Congress local institutions of popular power and participatory democracy give people a voice in the running of society. The Chief Justice is dead, but the chief injustice, a Court and a government that stand against humanity, remains.

DAN LA BOTZ edits Mexican Labor News and Analysis, and is the author of several books on labor in Mexico, Indonesia, and the United States. He can be reached at:





We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005