William Rehnquist was the most unlikely of appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court. He had no experience as a judge, and his boss, former President Richard Nixon, would embarrassingly refer to him as "Renchburg."
But after serving more than 33 years on the Supreme Court, the last 19 as chief justice, Rehnquist proved to be among the greatest justices ever. He set the judicial standard at a very high level.
Rehnquist took his seat on the Supreme Court on Jan. 7, 1972. A mere two months later, he brazenly disagreed with all the other justices and issued his first lone dissent.
He went on to establish his reputation for dissenting alone, earning him the nickname "the Lone Ranger." Rehnquist was never one to seek accolades from the media or his colleagues, and penned more than 410 dissenting opinions over his marvelous career.
One of his early dissents, in 1973, was to a majority decision invalidating state laws allowing maintenance grants for nonpublic and religious schools in Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist. Rehnquist had joined a Supreme Court that was almost unanimously hostile to all things religious, as well as liberal in many other ways.
Nearly 30 years later, Rehnquist prevailed with his 5-4 decision in Zelman v. Simmons Harris upholding school vouchers that parents could use to attend religious schools. Rehnquist's view became mainstream, to the benefit of all Americans.
His closest ally in the early years was Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, who seemed to join some of Rehnquist's dissents simply out of sympathy. By 1981, Burger knew whom to assign the difficult task of writing the decision defending the federal law excluding women from the draft.
Rostker v. Goldberg challenged the draft registration that was reactivated by then-President Jimmy Carter in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Carter and feminists demanded that women be drafted, too.
For 10 years, the Supreme Court had invalidated virtually every law that differentiated between men and women, often with Rehnquist in dissent. The court had even declared unconstitutional an Oklahoma law that set the alcohol drinking age for men at 21 but for women at 18, despite the 21st Amendment, which conferred on states the power to regulate liquor.
But Rehnquist commanded a 6-3 majority in favor of upholding a sensible distinction between men and women in the military draft. Rehnquist upheld the exemption for women, and quoted an earlier decision saying that judges "are not given the task of running the Army."
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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