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Bonus Interview Footage
Glossary

On Justices William Rehnquist and William Brennan

Transcript
Well when William Rehnquist was made an associate justice of the Court he took with him to the Court his basically conservative approach to the role of the Court in American life. And he was not afraid in those days to stake out his point of view in cases and write separately, if need be. He's a member of the Court who did not see the necessity at all of Court unanimity as a goal. He thought it was more important to stake out a position, a position that he thought was sound and stick with it. And as an associate justice he did that. He was often in the minority on the Court. At that time another associate justice on the Court was William Brennan. Justice Brennan had a very different position than William Rehnquist on many of the issues coming to the Court. They were often found on opposite sides. Justice Brennan was a very had an engaging, friendly personality. He was from New Jersey and came to the Court with a very congenial approach and a twinkle in his eye. But he, like William Rehnquist, wanted to stake out a position and stick with it. I think the difference was that Justice Brennan would tell his law clerks one thing when they came to the Court and he instructed them. He would hold up his five fingers and say remember this, five. It takes five members of the Court to have a holding of the Court. And that's what you clerks must remember as you go forward. That was his goal to get five members of the Court to agree. Justice Brennan was usually willing to make changes in his own opinion drafts in order to try to get more people to join him. He would negotiate language and changes and he didn't mind adding footnotes or adding language or taking something out even if it didn't make perfect sense. If it would produce another vote he would consider it. Now William Rehnquist didn't have the same approach. At the end of the day he thought some opinion he worked on had to make sense as a whole. He was much less willing to make small changes, additions or deletions in order to get five.


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