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Requiem for a reactionary

Published Sep 10, 2005 12:02 AM

It is a requirement of capitalist custom in the U.S. that when a Supreme Court justice dies, it is necessary for the entire establishment to genuflect, praise and admire them. It does not matter if he was a racist, misogynous reactionary, like William Rehnquist, or a liberal. Democrats and Republicans alike must fall in line. It is part of the ritual of engendering awe and veneration for the authority of the court.

In the case of Rehnquist, it is a stretch for liberals and moderates. Democrats must summon all the hypocrisy they are capable of for the occasion. After all, it was Rehnquist who stopped the vote recount in 2000 and basically appointed George W. Bush president.

Rehnquist began his career as a Republican operative in Arizona on the team of extreme right-wing militarist Barry Goldwater. He was a thug for the Goldwater machine, participating in Operation Eagle Eye at polling stations during the early 1960s. The goal was to intimidate and block African American and [email protected] voters.

He later became a clerk for Justice Robert Jackson, a Roosevelt appointee. At the time of the ground-breaking legal challenge to segregation, Brown v. the Board of Education, Rehnquist counseled Jackson to oppose Brown and uphold Plessy v. Ferguson, which enshrined the racist doctrine of “separate but equal.” He denounced his colleague’s “pathological” search for discrimination.

Rehnquist was such a low-life liar that later on he tried to blame it on Jackson, even though Jackson had ignored his advice and voted for Brown. As a champion of the Confederate “states’ rights” ideology, he opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He was against affirmative action at the University of Michigan.

Rehnquist twice voted against Roe v. Wade, dissenting in the original decision and again in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a 5-to-4 decision to uphold Roe. He also voted with the majority to overturn the Violence Against Women Act in 2000. He voted with the police in many crucial cases.

Rehnquist’s role was to overturn the legal gains achieved by the civil rights movement and the Black liberation struggle after World War II. These gains were codified by the court of Chief Justice Earl Warren. Warren became the target of racists and reactionaries for years. Rehnquist came to the court as those struggles were receding. He began a 33-year campaign to overturn those gains as well as Roe v. Wade and other post-Warren accomplishments of the movement.

Bush announced that he intends to appoint Rehnquist’s clerk and political protégé, John Roberts, to take over as Chief Justice. Roberts’ record is as clear as a bell. He is a right-winger all the way. He advised the Reagan administration to restrict the Voting Rights Act and has generally been dismissive of civil rights He has opposed Roe v. Wade and referred to the “so-called right to privacy” upon which it is legally based. He has opposed family planning. He is opposed to the Endangered Species Act. He opposed protection of the environment against corporate degradation. He denied the right of workers to get disability for carpal tunnel syndrome. He upheld the Bush administration’s right to conduct torture at Guantanamo. And Roberts wants to open the door wide to allow religious teachings in schools and government institutions. And—he was a lawyer for Bush in 2000. At that moment mentor and protégé, Rehnquist and Roberts, worked in harmony to hand Bush a presidency that he had lost.

Nevertheless, the Democrats are going through the motions of treating this enemy of the people with the dignity and respect required by the ruling class.

This level of opportunism of the Democratic Party is reminiscent of when Bill Clinton destroyed welfare, torpedoed the health care system, signed the Effective Death Penalty Act and implemented “Don’t ask, don’t tell” against gays in the military.

Looking back, it is no surprise that the leading Democrats are praising racist, anti-woman, reactionary Rehnquist in his coffin and letting it be known that his right-wing protégé is going to get a pass to the Supreme Court. But then, what can you expect from a capitalist party that has passed the Patriot Act, called for more troops to Iraq and declared its opponents “un-American.” That’s capitalist politics. Business as usual.

But just as in the days of the Warren court, the coming mass upsurge—which is bound to arise out of hatred for the Iraq war, the exposure of the bankruptcy of the regime during Katrina and the economic devastation eating away at the workers and the oppressed—will send all these reactionaries running for cover.