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'Tale of Two Justices'

August 17, 1986

In your thoughtful editorial you make the solid point that a judge otherwise qualified should not be rejected "if his or her views do not lie outside the general course of American law."

This argument goes far to support California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird. I would add that judges ought to be safe from being driven from office through winds of political change. The governor of California is on weak ground--indeed, on no ground at all--when he urges us to remove Rose Bird because she is not fulfilling the wish of the people.

The wish of the people can change capriciously, but amid such changes a judge should surely remain faithful to his or her interpretation of law. Societies that have laws have usually established them in order to provide a guide that can withstand and rise above temporary emotions.

But in the case of Justice William H. Rehnquist, you close your eyes to a crucial matter of character. You brush aside his "active partisanship in Arizona politics." If that had been all he did in Arizona, I could agree, for activity in politics, thank heaven, is guaranteed to all citizens.

But you astonish me by saying nothing of his repeated testimony, before the Senate Judiciary Committee and before millions of television watchers, that he never challenged voters in Arizona elections. This assertion was thoroughly refuted by four witnesses, who gave detailed testimony that convinced me that Rehnquist's statement was false.

Making false statements in such crucial circumstances is different from having been an active partisan. No man whose veracity can so be demolished is qualified to occupy the highest seat in the legal institutions of America.


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