Morning Report 9/4/05 Rehnquist Death Gives Bush Chance to Deepen American Crisis


Unlike dead chief justice, I ain’t just whistlin’ ‘Dixie’


U.S. Supreme Court


Rehnquist: His days of hassling voters are over

Already fighting an unpopular war overseas and at war with unpopular seas over here, America now faces a constitutional storm that’s at least Category Five.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist died last night, opening the door for an ideological battle that could swamp us all.

Will an increasingly scorned George W. Bush, whose handlers’ glaring ineptness in reacting to Hurricane Katrina has brought him criticism from the right, left, and center, try to push through an extreme makeover of the U.S. Supreme Court?

Does Bush have enough cachet remaining, or is he finally busted?

Would anybody go along with anything the moronic president’s handlers have him say?

The answer is yes. The religious zealots whose support helped make Bush president and keep him there don’t give a damn about New Orleans. They’ll want to go full bore in their quest to stamp out what they call “judicial activism.”

They won’t settle for Bush’s flunky Alberto Gonzales as chief justice. So there will probably be three confirmation hearings: the likely slam-dunk approval of John Roberts, the possible elevation of Dick Cheney’s Louisiana duck-huntin’ pal Antonin Scalia to chief justice of the United States, and the nomination of perhaps Gonzales as an associate justice, the first Latino on the high court.

Only during this Zero Decade could it be bad news for America (because of the opportunity for more mischief by Bush and his handlers) that Rehnquist is no longer chief justice.

He deserved sympathy for his ill health and admiration for battling to keep working. But he was a racist, reactionary prick who was out of step with the Enlightenment, let alone the 21st century.

I spent 13 years in wonderful, beautiful, wonderfully and beautifully crooked and crazy Arizona, so I’m familiar with the tales of Rehnquist’s intimidation of black voters in the ’60s, when he was a young Phoenix lawyer. To refresh your memory, check out Dennis Roddy‘s December 2, 2000, column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in which longtime Arizona Democrat Manuel “Lito” Peña recalls almost getting into a fistfight with Rehnquist, who was challenging minority voters on behalf of the Arizona GOP. Writing during the Florida electoral crisis in which Rehnquist was to play a crucial role, Roddy added:

In his confirmation hearings for the court in 1971, Rehnquist denied personally intimidating voters and gave the explanation that he might have been called to polling places on Election Day to arbitrate disputes over voter qualifications. Fifteen years later, three more witnesses, including a deputy U.S. attorney, told of being called to polling places and having angry voters point to Rehnquist as their tormentor. His defenders suggested it was a case of mistaken identity.

Bullshit. And it certainly wasn’t “mistaken identity” back in June 1999 when Rehnquist led a sing-along of “Dixie” at a conference of Fourth Circuit judges in Virginia. As the Washington Post‘s Craig Timberg wrote in July ’99:

White lawyer Zoe Sanders Nettles … of South Carolina [attended] the sing-along and said she was uncomfortable with the playing of “Dixie.”

“This hurts people’s feelings who are here,” Nettles recalled thinking. After the song ended, she approached Rehnquist in the crowded room to register her objections, saying, “I really don’t think we should sing Dixie.”

After a brief exchange, she said he replied, “Well, okay.”

Timberg also spoke with a black attorney about it:

“The song is offensive to African Americans,” said Brent O.E. Clinkscale, a black South Carolina lawyer who said he was among several lawyers at the conference who avoided the Rehnquist sing-along because “Dixie” had been sung there in earlier years. “I think it’s nostalgic for slavery.”

Well, we’re used to that. The neglect of poor black people in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit reminded many people of America’s slave past — and present.

The Southern pols who have disproportionate power in this country used to control Congress as Democrats. Now they’re the heart of the GOP. It’s like an Al Capp comic strip, by way of Warner Bros., come to — I say, come to — life.

The way our government responded to Hurricane Katrina, it’s as if we’re living in Lower Slobbovia.

When the Rigid Right clamors to fill this new Supreme Court vacancy with a Cotton Mather–like schmo, will we just wait to be gobbled up like so many Shmoos?

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 4, 2005

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