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Following his clerkship, Rehnquist set up a law practice in Phoenix. There he became a Goldwater conservative who opposed an integration plan for Phoenix public schools in 1967. Brought back to Washington to the Nixon Justice Department by another Phoenix lawyer, Deputy Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, Rehnquist was enlisted in the Administration's battle against student radicals, whom Rehnquist described in a 1969 speech as "the new barbarians." He helped devise legal grounds to round up and detain antiwar ) protesters during the 1971 May Day demonstrations. Later that year Nixon rewarded Rehnquist for his efforts by putting him on the high court.
In a revealing interview last year with John Jenkins for the New York Times Magazine, Rehnquist described his political philosophy. "I'm a strong believer in pluralism: don't concentrate all the power in one place. You don't want all the power in the Government as opposed to the people. You don't want all the power in the Federal Government as opposed to the states."
As a Justice, he has been a consistent defender of states' rights against federal intrusion. At the same time, however, he has strongly resisted the efforts of other Justices to protect individual rights by broadly interpreting the Constitution. He is a staunch opponent of the controversial "exclusionary rule," under which illegally seized evidence is thrown out of court. A consistent proponent of the death penalty, he has railed against drawn-out legal appeals that delay executions.
Rehnquist was one of two dissenters (the other: Byron White) from Roe vs. Wade, the court's 1973 decision creating a constitutional right to abortion, and he has repeatedly dissented from court decisions banning prayer in schools. Court decisions upholding affirmative action have regularly drawn his scornful dissents. "There is perhaps no device more destructive to the notion of equality than the . . . quota," Rehnquist wrote in United Steelworkers and Kaiser Aluminum vs. Weber in 1979. He adamantly opposes court-ordered busing to remedy school segregation. The Constitution, he wrote in a dissent from a 1979 decision upholding busing in Columbus, does not require local school boards to "follow a policy of integration uber alles."
Rehnquist holds himself out as an apostle of judicial restraint. Federal judges, he asserts, should not impose their personal views on the law or stray beyond the intent of the framers by reading broad meaning into the Constitution. Yet judicial restraint has another meaning: judges are also supposed to respect stare decisis, the established precedent handed down by past judges. Rehnquist has been less respectful of Supreme Court precedent, especially the decisions of the liberal Warren Court. His critics sometimes accuse him of disingenuously twisting history to fit his own views. "Don't forget, Rehnquist is a radical," says Columbia Law School Professor Vincent Blasi. "Nobody since the 1930s has been so niggardly in interpreting the Bill of Rights, so blatant in simply ignoring years and years of precedent." Rehnquist retorts that such attacks come from liberal academics and that "on occasion, they write somewhat disingenuously about me."