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The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment That Redefined the Supreme Court

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In 1971, William Rehnquist seemed the perfect choice to fill a seat on the United States Supreme Court. He was a young, well-polished lawyer who shared many of President Richard Nixon's philosophies and faced no major objections from the Senate. But in truth, the nomination was anything but straightforward. Now, for the first time, former White House counsel John Dean tell In 1971, William Rehnquist seemed the perfect choice to fill a seat on the United States Supreme Court. He was a young, well-polished lawyer who shared many of President Richard Nixon's philosophies and faced no major objections from the Senate. But in truth, the nomination was anything but straightforward. Now, for the first time, former White House counsel John Dean tells the improbable story of Rehnquist's appointment. Dean weaves a gripping account packed with stunning new revelations: of a remarkable power play by Nixon to stack the court in his favor by forcing resignations; of Rehnquist himself, who played a role in the questionable ousting of Justice Abe Fortas; and of Nixon's failed impeachment attempt against William 0. Douglas. In his initial confirmation hearings, Rehnquist provided outrageous and unbelievable responses to questions about his controversial activities in the '50s and '60s -- yet he was confirmed with little opposition. It was only later, during his confirmation as Chief Justice, that his testimony would come under fire -- raising serious questions as to whether he had perjured himself Using newly released tapes, his own papers, and documents unearthed from the National Archives, John Dean offers readers a place in the White House inner circle, providing an unprecedented look at a government process, and a stunning expose of the man who has influenced the United States Supreme Court for the last thirty years.


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In 1971, William Rehnquist seemed the perfect choice to fill a seat on the United States Supreme Court. He was a young, well-polished lawyer who shared many of President Richard Nixon's philosophies and faced no major objections from the Senate. But in truth, the nomination was anything but straightforward. Now, for the first time, former White House counsel John Dean tell In 1971, William Rehnquist seemed the perfect choice to fill a seat on the United States Supreme Court. He was a young, well-polished lawyer who shared many of President Richard Nixon's philosophies and faced no major objections from the Senate. But in truth, the nomination was anything but straightforward. Now, for the first time, former White House counsel John Dean tells the improbable story of Rehnquist's appointment. Dean weaves a gripping account packed with stunning new revelations: of a remarkable power play by Nixon to stack the court in his favor by forcing resignations; of Rehnquist himself, who played a role in the questionable ousting of Justice Abe Fortas; and of Nixon's failed impeachment attempt against William 0. Douglas. In his initial confirmation hearings, Rehnquist provided outrageous and unbelievable responses to questions about his controversial activities in the '50s and '60s -- yet he was confirmed with little opposition. It was only later, during his confirmation as Chief Justice, that his testimony would come under fire -- raising serious questions as to whether he had perjured himself Using newly released tapes, his own papers, and documents unearthed from the National Archives, John Dean offers readers a place in the White House inner circle, providing an unprecedented look at a government process, and a stunning expose of the man who has influenced the United States Supreme Court for the last thirty years.

30 review for The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment That Redefined the Supreme Court

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lukasz Pruski

    "There ought to be a woman judge. Lots of women, and it's economic. I'm not for women, frankly, in any job. I don't want any of them around." (R.M. Nixon, according to transcript of recorded conversations) John W. Dean was one of the crucial figures in the Watergate affair of the early 1970s, the affair that ended R.M. Nixon's presidency. Of all the principal actors in the affair he might be the one who contributed the most to exposing the President's knowledge of all machinations. The Rehnquist C "There ought to be a woman judge. Lots of women, and it's economic. I'm not for women, frankly, in any job. I don't want any of them around." (R.M. Nixon, according to transcript of recorded conversations) John W. Dean was one of the crucial figures in the Watergate affair of the early 1970s, the affair that ended R.M. Nixon's presidency. Of all the principal actors in the affair he might be the one who contributed the most to exposing the President's knowledge of all machinations. The Rehnquist Choice (2001) is not a book about Watergate, though. Mr. Dean writes here about President Nixon's other contribution to political history of the U.S. - one that that might have had even a more significant impact - the nomination of William Rehnquist to the Supreme Court in 1971. As Mr. Nixon said himself in a TV speech to the nation: "Presidents come and go, but the Supreme Court - through its decisions - goes on forever." Mr. Rehnquist eventually became the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the author aptly summarizes the importance of President Nixon's decision: "The Rehnquist choice [...] has redefined the Supreme Court, making it a politically conservative bastion within our governmental system. Rehnquist's many years of service, and his ability as a legal scholar, have brought about the rewriting of fundamental aspects of the nation's constitutional law." The book contains extensive excerpts from the transcripts of the infamous "Nixon tapes" that eventually sealed the President's fate and forced his resignation in 1974 - recordings of conversations taped in the Oval Office. The title of the book is a little misleading since more than half of the book recounts the history of all Nixon's nominations to the Supreme Court. Out of eight seriously considered candidates two were rejected by the Senate, two were deemed unqualified by the American Bar Association, one withdrew himself, and three nominations were successful: justices Blackmun, Powell, and Rehnquist. The book is rich is historical details and I will focus only on its two main emphases. The author's first central point is that it was in fact he, John W. Dean, who sold the idea that Mr. Rehnquist should become nominated to Supreme Court to people who had significant influence on the President and the selection of nominees. One has to keep in mind that Mr. Dean's narrative may conceivably be biased. I have no way of assessing the veracity of the message: it might be true but neither is it impossible that Mr. Dean aggrandizes his role in history. The other central idea is that Mr. Rehnquist did not tell the entire truth about his past judicial record during the confirmation hearings and that the truth did not come out because the entire process was conducted in haste. The author's argument is very strong but I am certainly not an expert to take sides. If the message is indeed true, it would make me less happy about the robustness of the confirmation process. One aspect I do not like is that the distinction between transcripts of Nixon tapes and Mr. Dean's recollections of conversations that had not been taped is not made more explicit. The reader, knowing that most of the dialogues in the book come from tapes, may form an impression that Dean's private conversations are rendered verbatim. But, in fact, the author could have made them all up. I am absolutely not claiming that he did any such thing, I just regret that the distinction is not more clear. The look behind the curtains of the nomination process, evidenced by conversations caught on tape, is quite revealing. One can really confirm the ugliness of the political process, things like catering to minorities: focusing on whether the candidate is Catholic or Protestant, African American, Italian, Jewish or Polish, and, of course, trying to nominate a woman. Let me quote another passage from President Nixon's rant: "And she's the best qualified woman but she's not qualified for the Supreme Court. Jesus, that's great. That's great." We may never know if other presidents tape their private conversations in the White House. If they do, I have no doubts that Mr. Nixon wouldn't be the only one with despicable quotes. And finally, let me observe how extremely non-partisan the senators were in these times - often voting against the party line on both sides of the party divide. Nothing even remotely similar would be possible in today's polarized political climate. Three and a half stars.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    With the release of the Nixon Tapes more books are coming out based on new information revealed in the tapes. This book is one of those books. The book is based on 420 hours of the recently released tapes that cover the 34 days in 1971 when Nixon filled two Supreme Court vacancies. Dean used the Tapes, his own papers from when he was Nixon’s White House Counsel, and documents from the National Archives. I never thought I would be listening to the famous Nixon Tapes. Apparently Nixon considered 36 With the release of the Nixon Tapes more books are coming out based on new information revealed in the tapes. This book is one of those books. The book is based on 420 hours of the recently released tapes that cover the 34 days in 1971 when Nixon filled two Supreme Court vacancies. Dean used the Tapes, his own papers from when he was Nixon’s White House Counsel, and documents from the National Archives. I never thought I would be listening to the famous Nixon Tapes. Apparently Nixon considered 36 candidates to fill the positions vacated by retiring Justices Hugo Black and John Marshall Harlan. Dean states that Nixon’s goal was to slow down integration and move the Court to the right. When Rehnquist was being considered Nixon was told “Rehnquist made his Arizona mentor Barry Goldwater look like a liberal.” I cannot believe that Nixon considered nominating Senator Bird to the Court; he was even a Democrat not a Republican besides being a form KKK member. Dean reveals the “vetting” process used by the Nixon White House and Justice Department to select nominees to the Court. The book is well written and easy to follow with lots of quotes from the tapes to give reader the feeling they are sitting in the White House alongside Nixon. I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is short at six hours. During Nixon’s Presidency he appointed four men to the Supreme Court: William Rehnquist, Lewis Powell Jr., Harry Blackmum and he appointed Warren E. Burger as Chief Justice. Boyd Gaines does a good job narrating the book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Evan Moore

    While an interesting look at the internal dynamics of choosing Supreme Court Justices in general, and President Nixons in particular, this book suffers a bit from being a bit too reliant on the insertion of parenthesis to fill in thoughts. It breaks the narrative, and makes it difficult to determine what the point of a sentence might be, or what the person quoted is saying (I am aware that there is also an argument for inserting these, as it makes it more understandable). This also feels like a While an interesting look at the internal dynamics of choosing Supreme Court Justices in general, and President Nixons in particular, this book suffers a bit from being a bit too reliant on the insertion of parenthesis to fill in thoughts. It breaks the narrative, and makes it difficult to determine what the point of a sentence might be, or what the person quoted is saying (I am aware that there is also an argument for inserting these, as it makes it more understandable). This also feels like a book that you need to read twice, once to know it and another time to check the footnotes

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lakin

    I love history and law and all of the matters that go into politics; however, for me, this reading was dry. There were so many names and jumping back and forth that it was hard to keep track of what was happening. I liked it, as I learned a lot of things about important political figures, but had this not be a required reading for my political science class, this would have never made its way into my hands.

  5. 5 out of 5

    James Kingman

    This book reads like the strident ramblings of a defensive and bitter old man. It took 40 years for him to come out with this story. Undoubtedly Nixon had some practices that wee would not like, and the fact that every conversation was recorded hurts his reputation. But that is not news. This book at first seem to have a legitimate gripe. It devolves into a back-biting report through the transcripts that any one could read without any insight or useful commentary. If Dean was a player, he certai This book reads like the strident ramblings of a defensive and bitter old man. It took 40 years for him to come out with this story. Undoubtedly Nixon had some practices that wee would not like, and the fact that every conversation was recorded hurts his reputation. But that is not news. This book at first seem to have a legitimate gripe. It devolves into a back-biting report through the transcripts that any one could read without any insight or useful commentary. If Dean was a player, he certainly is not now.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Bill Sleeman

    The Rehnquist Choice by former White House Counsel John Dean is a quick and engaging history of President Nixon’s decision making process to fill a set of open seats on the Supreme Court of the United States. It is also, I suspect, an attempt at a mea culpa (although not really necessary IMHO) by Dean – but the real message here, at least for young political staffers – would be to keep your mouth shut if you don’t know what you are talking about!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Shelby

    I had to read this for a political science class, and while a lot of books I have to read for school are quite dry, I found this one engaging. This book gave some very good insight into not only Nixon, but also the thought process that goes into Supreme Court choices. It's interesting to see how it unfolds beyond the scenes and beyond what we see in the news when decisions like this are being made. I thought it was very interesting and educational.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    While I can only give this 4 stars because I don't have the time to investigate and check Dean's sources and conclusions. Sorry but he is no more trustworthy than his old masters were! That caveat duly posted, this is a nice piece of first person testimony on a fascinating conservative appointment to the Supreme Court. Additionally, it brings back enough scoundrels (Nixon, Mitchell, et al) and racists (Stennis, Eastland, etc) to satisfy any Sixties/Seventies historian.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Yvonne

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The subject is interesting, but the book is really slooooow. It is a play-by-play of how Nixon ends up picking Rehnquist, but that doesn't even happen until the very last chapter -- every other chapter is about the rejects that come before Rehnquist. So as far as the actual "Rehnquist Choice" goes, it is in only the last chapter.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    What I liked about this book is that it gave a different perspective of the inner workings of the white house as the president tries to figure out who will take the spot on the nation's highest court. Rehnquist was not Nixon's first or second choice, but Rehnquist became a 30 year veteran of the court and one of its finest, and notorious, leaders.

  11. 5 out of 5

    John Hively

    This was an interesting, if tediously dull, book. But it is important as it gives an insider account of how a corrupt Chief Justice managed to get past the senate judiciary committee while holding views not in harmony with the US constitution.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Blake Maddux

  13. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  14. 5 out of 5

    Craig Cunningham

  15. 4 out of 5

    Cam Mcleman

  16. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  17. 5 out of 5

    Roger

  18. 4 out of 5

    Matt

  19. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jim

  21. 4 out of 5

    Damon

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rebeccapinto

  23. 4 out of 5

    Cyrus

  24. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Cooley

  25. 5 out of 5

    Chase

  26. 5 out of 5

    Joanne

  27. 5 out of 5

    John-Paul

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alex

  29. 4 out of 5

    Candace

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bea Underwood

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