Rehnquist's Inquest

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What's left to do after you've written the book on impeachment? Preside over one, of course. And that's exactly what Chief Justice William Rehnquist, author of "Grand Inquests," will be doing Thursday when the impeachment trial of President Clinton gets under way. Don't expect many surprises from the Chief, but there may be a few ironies from a Justice appointed to the court by Richard Nixon. "Rehnquist is a highly cautious jurist and he will try his best to be fair and dignified and give Senators little cause for objection," says TIME deputy bureau chief Jef McAllister.

Special ReportBut the trial will thrust the Chief Justice into a unique role at a unique event riddled with contradictions. Rehnquist, one of the leading opponents of allowing TV cameras in the Supreme Court courtroom, will direct a proceeding that will be broadcast on national television coast to coast. And to make matters even more delicate, says McAllister "the Chief, who has made it a practice to run a tight ship at the Supreme Court, will be running a show during which senators can outvote him at any moment on any question of procedure or evidence." It's the opportunity of a lifetime to stake out a place in the pantheon of justice or to go down in flames amidst the flares of politics. "Though outfitted in comical sleeve stripes he designed himself, Rehnquist will work as hard as he can to embody the majesty of the law," says McAllister.