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William H. Rehnquist: 1924-2005

Rehnquist's opinions

By Associated Press
Published September 4, 2005

ROE VS. WADE

From his dissent in the 1973 case that legalized abortion:

The Court's opinion decides that a State may impose virtually no restriction on the performance of abortions during the first trimester of pregnancy. I have difficulty in concluding, as the Court does, that the right of "privacy" is involved in this case. A transaction resulting in an operation such as this is not "private" in the ordinary usage of that word. Nor is the "privacy" that the Court finds here even a distant relative of the freedom from searches and seizures protected by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. . . . The decision here to break pregnancy into three distinct terms and to outline the permissible restrictions the State may impose in each one, for example, partakes more of judicial legislation. . . . Even today, when society's views on abortion are changing, the very existence of the debate is evidence that the "right" to an abortion is not so universally accepted as the appellant would have us believe.

ROSTKER VS. GOLDBERG

From 1981, case upholding Congress' decision to bar women from registering for draft:

The existence of the combat restrictions clearly indicates the basis for Congress' decision to exempt women from registration. The purpose of registration was to prepare for a draft of combat troops. Since women are excluded from combat, Congress concluded that they would not be needed in the event of a draft, and therefore decided not to register them.

Congress' decision to authorize the registration of only men, therefore, does not violate the (Fifth Amendment's) Due-Process Clause. The exemption of women from registration is not only sufficiently but closely related to Congress' purpose in authorizing registration.

CRUZAN VS. MISSOURI

From 1990, the first ruling in a "right-to-die" case:

We . . . consider the question whether Cruzan has a right under the United States Constitution which would require the hospital to withdraw life-sustaining treatment from her.

At common law, even the touching of one person by another without consent and without legal justification was a battery. The logical corollary of the doctrine of informed consent is that the patient generally possesses the right not to consent, that is, to refuse treatment.

We assume that the United States Constitution would grant a competent person a constitutionally protected right to refuse lifesaving hydration and nutrition.

BUSH VS. GORE

From his concurring opinion in 2000:

In a Presidential election the clearly expressed intent of the legislature must prevail. And there is no basis for reading the Florida statutes as requiring the counting of improperly marked ballots, as an examination of the Florida Supreme Court's textual analysis shows. . . . The remedy prescribed by the Supreme Court of Florida cannot be deemed an "appropriate" one as of December 8. It significantly departed from the statutory framework in place on November 7, and authorized open-ended further proceedings which could not be completed by December 12, thereby preventing a final determination by that date.

TEXAS VS. JOHNSON

From his dissent in a 1989 case that struck down laws barring flag burning:

In holding this Texas statute unconstitutional, the Court ignores Justice Holmes' familiar aphorism that "a page of history is worth a volume of logic." For more than 200 years, the American flag has occupied a unique position as the symbol of our Nation, a uniqueness that justifies a governmental prohibition against flag burning in the way Johnson did here. . . .

The flag is not simply another "idea" or "point of view" competing for recognition in the marketplace of ideas. Millions and millions of Americans regard it with an almost mystical reverence regardless of what sort of social, political, or philosophical beliefs they may have. I cannot agree that the First Amendment invalidates the Act of Congress . . . which make criminal the public burning of the flag.

[Last modified September 4, 2005, 01:32:06]


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