died Saturday night at his home in Virginia after suffering from thyroid cancer. The Chief Justice aligned himself with the conservatives on the court, consistently voting to uphold state power against individual rights in criminal procedure matters and due process clause challenges and for a narrow interpretation of our Constitutional guarantees against discrimination.
He joined Kennedy appointee Byron White in opposing abortion rights in Roe v. Wade but failed to win over Justices Sondra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy when the Court revisited the issue. The late Chief Justice fought more successfully to shift the court to the right on religious establishment cases, a move that, while he hoped to overturn important judicial precedents that guarantee religious equality, did move the court to a more solid and balanced approach on those issues and moved the court to the right on federalism.
Few know how this will affect the judicial proceedings scheduled for this week. Most Court watchers expected Chief Justice William Rehnquist to retire first due to his illness but were caught off guard when O'Connor became the first to announce her resignation. Circuit Judge John Roberts will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week but the president will now be required to find another replacement. The president was not caught off guard. The Chief Justice was gravely ill and had recently been admitted to a hospital for treatment before the end. He probably conducted most of his interviews when O'Connor retired so there are probably two or three candidates he might consider after the grieving process is over.
I rarely agreed with the late Rehnquist's judicial views and found myself supporting O'Connor more than any justice, but he performed his job with the dignity necessary for that office .. He presided over the impeachment of a sitting president, maintained judicial independence, and rarely engaged in the heated rhetoric offered by his fellow conservative counterparts. His loved ones will mourn his passing, but he his death spares him from further pain. May his successor come to appreciate the role as much as Rehnquist did.