Davies on Rehnquist's Papers

The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist had a strong sense of the importance of his papers, but he felt also the need to protect the Court's privacy says Professor Ross Davies in a Legal Times article.

"He was hostile toward Thurgood Marshall's plan, but he was a historian. He felt a responsibility to history, as long as it did not harm the dignity of the Court," said Davies.

Unlike Marshall's papers, which were released by the Library of Congress immediately after the justice's death in 1993, Rehnquist's case files will not be released in full until after the deaths of all the justices with whom he served on the Court. A group of early case files for the period 1972 to 1975 when Justice Stevens joined the Court will be released shortly and will include Roe v. Wade from 1973. The next group of case files after 1975 will be made public after the death of Justice Stevens.

Documents other than case files will be released to the public after processing by archivists.

Unlike presidents, Supreme Court justices may choose how they wish to have their official and private papers treated after their deaths. In Rehnquist's case, his family elected to donate his papers to the Hoover Institution, on whose board of overseers Rehnquist had once served.

Rehnquist's Paper Trail, Legal Times, October 27, 2008. By Tony Mauro.

"The University of Cambridge's David Garrow, who has mined justices' papers extensively and authored the definitive book on Roe v. Wade, doubts Rehnquist's file on the case will reveal 'much if anything' that has not been gleaned from other justices' files, except perhaps a draft of Rehnqust's dissent. But Garrow says Rehnquist's non-case files 'may be where the action is,' revealing new details about Rehnquists' pre-Court days and his lengthy tenure on the Court, including his role presiding over the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999.

"George Mason's Davies agrees that the non-case documents may be the most important part of his files. 'He was a wonderful correspondent' who valued letter-writing, Davies says. When Green Bag, the law review Davies edits, wondered in print in 1999 about the identity of a long-ago Supreme Court employee named Harry Parker, Rehnquist--then chief justice--wrote to say Parker had been a messenger for Justice Jackson and added a poignant personal anecdote about Parker."

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