WASHINGTON – Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was buried Wednesday as President Bush led the nation in bidding farewell to the man who orchestrated a dramatic states rights power shift in a third of a century on the Supreme Court and settled the acrimonious 2000 election in Bush’s favor.
With more laughs than tears, family and friends spoke poignantly of Rehnquist’s final days – when he cracked jokes in the face of death – and proudly of the imprint of his 33 years on the high court.
“We remember the integrity and the sense of duty that he brought to every task before him,” Bush told the funeral audience during a two-hour service at historic St. Matthew’s Cathedral. Rehnquist was a steady, guiding presence on the court, Bush said of the nation’s 16th chief justice who died last Saturday at 80.
The service drew Washington’s power elite, including the eight Supreme Court justices and John Roberts, a former Rehnquist law clerk whom Bush has named to succeed him.
Rehnquist, a veteran of the Army Air Forces in World War II, was buried in a private ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery in a grave not far from those of several other justices. From the grave site, where his wife was buried in 1991, the Capitol is visible.
Despite battling thyroid cancer, Rehnquist managed to attend Bush’s second inauguration in January – a gesture the president recalled with appreciation. “Many will never forget the sight of this man, weakened by illness, rise to his full height and say in a strong voice, ‘Raise your right hand, Mr. President, and repeat after me,’ ” Bush said.
The chief justice, a solid conservative, was leader of the “Rehnquist five” who often favored states rights over federal government power, and in a bitter 5-4 vote handed Bush the 2000 election. There was only passing mention of that during the service, as well as his duties presiding over President Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999.
Instead, friends and family talked about his penchant for wagers, jokes, sports, geography, history, tennis, and competition of any type.
“If you valued your money, you would be careful about betting with the chief. He usually won,” said Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who dated Rehnquist when both were in law school together in the 1950s. “I think the chief bet he could live out another term despite his illness. He lost that bet, as did all of us, but he won all the prizes for a life well lived.”