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Bonus Interview Footage
Glossary

On William Rehnquist's political and legal philosophies

Transcript
There's a lot of the Midwest and the west in Justice Rehnquist's approach to constitutional law. And by that I mean a recognition that people pretty know pretty well how to govern themselves, that government that is closest to the people is apt to be more responsive to their legitimate concerns and needs. And that difficulties arise when people from far off places with no understanding of the local community try to tell people what they should do. Now that can be parodied as sort of state's rights approach with all the negative connotations that implies. But that wasn't what Justice Rehnquist was about. He, instead, was about recognizing that to some extent that government governs best which governs least and that in particular, to the extent the national government was going to assert authority over individuals that was the job of the legislative branch or the executive branch and it wasn't the job of judges who were not responsive to the people, were not elected by the people, couldn't be thrown out of office by the people. And he came of age in a legal sense at a time when courts were very active in imposing new found rights and responsibilities and limits on government. And I think he, given his political philosophy, reacted negatively to that and sort to remind people that the national government was a government of limited powers, that the federal judiciary had to be confined to its limited role, and that that wasn't unlimited, that it wasn't a boundless force for doing what the judges think is best in society.


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