Rehnquist and Powell

President Nixon presents Lewis Powell (shown on the left of RN) and William Rehnquist (on right of RN) framed gifts recognizing their confirmation as Supreme Court Justices. (December 22, 1971)

In October of 1971, President Nixon would be tasked with nominating two more associate judges to the Supreme Court, due to justices John Harlan and Hugo Black resigning for health reasons. By this time, President Nixon made clear his views on the standards and qualifications of a judge; a judge must share his “strict constructionist” view of judicial philosophy, and will not “twist or bend the Constitution in order to perpetuate his personal, political or social views.” Of course, as with all forms of political or governmental decisions, there would be supporters and dissenters of President Nixon’s opinions on the merits of Supreme Court Justices.

A letter written by a Mrs. Roland T. Booth to President Nixon contained a newspaper attachment with a Daily News article supporting President Nixon’s two nominations, Lewis F. Powell and William H. Rehnquist, and the hope that the Senate would not attempt to “smear and degrade the nominees and the Supreme Court[.]” After Abe Fortas’ resignation, President Nixon initially nominated Clement Haynsworth of South Carolina, and G. Harrold Carswell of Georgia, both of whom were rejected amply by the Senate. The Senators who opposed the two nominees brought to light much of the criticisms during the Senate hearings in order to guarantee the rejection of President Nixon’s two nominees claiming they, the nominees, were unqualified, racist, or were involved in financial scandals (this last attack was aimed primarily towards Haynsworth).

Blog #2 img022

Blog #2 img023

The Supreme Court itself was in the crosshairs of the public too with the media taking pot shots at the integrity of the Court in the aftermath of the Abe Fortas scandal. The scandal cast a shadow of mistrust on the Supreme Court and the men serving on the bench as well, and the level of respect for the Court fell significantly; the Supreme Court’s overall image was at one of its lowest points in history. President Nixon was aware of this declining image, and sought to restore this crippled and liberal Court back to its original status and position.

With his third and fourth nominations of the presidency to the Supreme Court, President Nixon, “hope[d] these two gentlemen [Powell and Rehnquist], if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, will favor maintaining ‘the delicate balance between the rights of society and the defendants accused of crimes,’ rather than making life easy for criminals and tough for police and prosecutors.” Richard Nixon elaborated in his 1968 campaign that he wanted to combat the rising crime rates in America through proposed legislation and, if provided the opportunity, appointments to the Supreme Court. William H. Rehnquist and Lewis F. Powell would hopefully, to Nixon, be fulfillments to this promise.

The Daily News was one of many newspapers to support President Nixon’s two nominations, commenting, “To which we’ll add that we hope the Supreme Court as reconstituted by President Nixon will confine itself to interpreting the laws, and refrain from trying to mold public policy and make laws.” Despite any criticism Powell and Rehnquist received by any source, the Senate would ultimately confirm their nominations in December of 1971, completing President Nixon’s last and final nominations to the Supreme Court throughout his presidency.