Book Review: Rehnquist: A Personal Portrait of the Distinguished Chief Justice of the United States

Another choice brought about by wandering the local library, Rehnquist: A Personal Portrait of the Distinguished Chief Justice of the United States by Herman Obermayer ($11 @ Amazon). I usually avoid anything related to politics in the last 30 years or so, and still do! I’m sharing this because it’s a different book than might expect; it’s the words of a close friend about his friend and what he was like as a person. No, you can’t ignore that Rehnquist was the Chief Justice, but it’s not really about the decisions, it’s about the man.

Some interesting tidbits about him from the book:

  • He loved poetry and quotations
  • Would bet on just about anything (how much snow tomorrow), but never more than $5
  • Never had more than one beer at dinner
  • Old school manners

There’s a great section that talks about cameras in the Court. Obermayer (“Obe”) was in favor of them, but it covers there conversations about how recording trial courts might serve as a leveler, but how those recordings could also be used over time to create caricatures of Justices. It’s a conversation about transparency and how to do it in a way that is positive, a question I continue to try to answer well.

I said above it’s a different book. It’s a friend grieving and sharing for a close friend now gone, and I think it’s written in the way I associate with Card’s speaker for the dead. It doesn’t feel like a book meant to capitalize on the friendship for money. At the same time, I think; would I want someone to write something like this about me, without my implicit ok? It shares things said between friends with the expectation of privacy, does that stop at death, even if well meaning? I don’t know the answer to that.

You won’t find anything revealing here about Court decisions. You’ll get a filtered view of it from one perspective, something the author discusses well in the afterword. If you’re interested in the Supreme Court you’ll find a few small things, and if you’re interested in the man, you’ll learn a few things. I think you’ll learn more if you think about the issues I noted above, and then for a few quiet moments reflect on what a book about you might say.