The departures of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor from the Supreme Court constitute an event of singular importance for that institution. Rehnquist and O'Connor were by any reckoning highly consequential Justices. Although differing in important respects, each Justice was a public servant of the highest integrity and dedication; each was a patriot to the core; and each at the end reflected credit on the Court, the profession, and, it should be acknowledged, on Stanford Law School. Some of the criticism in this Article is pointed. But it is written in a spirit of respect for all that these two fine people contributed to America and for the Court they so proudly and ably served.

The Rehnquist Court left multiple legacies. One was certainly a commitment to our federal system and to the doctrine of dual sovereignty. Another was the renewal of emphasis on the structural features of the Constitution, after a long period of relative neglect. Yet a third legacy was that of judicial supremacy, in which the Court asserted its own role at the expense of the executive, the Congress, and the states. A final legacy was probably that of pragmatic centrism, in which the Court sought to shape constitutional doctrine to the temper of the times. These legacies are in some tension with each other. Which of them will prove most durable will remain a subject of debate. It is beyond dispute, however, that the course of the Rehnquist Court was not constant. It shifted significantly over time...

 

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