NewsHour: A Look at the Chief Justice – January 13, 1999

MARGARET WARNER: Stuart, what else do we need to know about this man that you think will affect how we conduct this trial?

STUART TAYLOR: Well, you cover it pretty well. I think the top of it is – he’s a very smart man – he’s no nonsense – as Jeff recently wrote in the New Yorker. He runs a poker game that includes some interesting players, and the idea is let’s play the poker, no nonsense. The one quibble I might have with what we just heard was the word "stern task master." Yes, he runs the court on tight schedule but he is liked and regarded as very fair in dealing with that by his colleagues.

I well remember Justice William Brennan, the late justice, one of the great liberals and the polar opposite ideologically of Rehnquist. I went to him after a bitterly, bitterly divided partisan ideological debate that led to Rehnquist’s confirmation as chief justice in 1986, and I asked Justice Brennan, what do you think of it? "I’m just delighted. He’s such a wonderful guy. He’ll be fair." Now, Brennan wasn’t particularly going to miswarrant Berger either. That might have been part of it. But I think he’s in a very different forum than he’s ever been in before because although when he brings down the gavel in the court and says counsel, your time is up, they salute, and they march away, and the other justices don’t challenge him on things like that. But in the Senate he can be overruled by 51 Senators on anything he does. And the most interesting thing for me watching him will be this. Will he try and set an aggressive tone in ruling, for example, if somebody wants censure, if there’s an argument over what evidence should come in, will he say in a clear and forceful way, well, here’s what I think and hope they don’t overrule him at the risk of

(a) being repeatedly overruled or