In his thirty-four years on the Supreme Court, William Rehnquist participated enthusiastically in the annual Christmas party for the justices and their clerks. "He and I wrote the Christmas show the year I clerked for him, in 1975," recalls Craig M. Bradley, who now teaches law at Indiana University.
One carol that year was sung to the tune of "Angels From the Realms of Glory." It went like this: "Liberals from the realm of theory should adorn our highest bench / Though to crooks they're always chary / at police misdeeds they blench." ("The word 'blench' came from Rehnquist," Bradley says. "I didn't know it meant 'blanch.'") The members of the chorus then fell to their knees and sang, "Save Miranda, save Miranda, save it from the Nixon Four." The so-called Nixon Four were Supreme Court Justices Warren Burger, Harry Blackmun, Lewis Powell, and, of course, Rehnquist.
Twenty-five years later, after having repeatedly ridiculed the constitutional soundness of the decision requiring police officers to read suspects their Miranda rights, Rehnquist voted to uphold it. "Miranda has become embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become part of our national culture," he wrote in a 7—2 opinion for the Court in Dickerson v. U.S., in 2000. Rehnquist's apostasy provoked one of Justice Antonin Scalia's most vitriolic dissenting opinions. Joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, Scalia declared, "Today's judgment converts Miranda from a milestone of judicial overreaching into the very Cheops' Pyramid (or perhaps the Sphinx would be a better analogue) of judicial arrogance."
"Crime, Confessions, and the Court" (September 1966)
"Coddling criminals" and "handcuffing the police" are the latest bitter charges aimed at the Supreme Court. In fact, the stormy course the Court has followed through its Escobedo and Miranda decisions is much simpler, if subtler, than most of its critics realize. By Robert Cipes
Rehnquist's evolution from Miranda's leading critic to its improbable savior infuriated conservatives and confused liberals; but in fact it was emblematic of his career. Throughout his long tenure, liberals always simplistically lumped Rehnquist together with the other conservatives on the Court, whereas conservatives never fully embraced him as one of their own. Furthermore, liberals have never understood how significantly and frequently Rehnquist departed from doctrinaire conservative ideology, and conservatives have failed to grasp that his tactical flexibility was more effective than the rigid purity of Scalia and Thomas. In truth, Rehnquist carefully staked out a limbo between the right and the left and showed that it was a very good place to be. With exceptional efficiency and amiability he led a Court that put the brakes on some of the excesses of the Earl Warren era while keeping pace with the sentiments of a majority of the country—generally siding with economic conservatives and against cultural conservatives. As for judicial temperament, he was far more devoted to preserving tradition and majority rule than the generation of fire-breathing conservatives who followed him. And his administration of the Court was brilliantly if quietly effective, making him one of the most impressive chief justices of the past hundred years.