President Nixon’s Advice to Justice Rehnquist After He Was Confirmed: “just be as mean and rough as they said you were”

June 10th, 2014

A fascinating recorded conversation from the White House on December 10, 1971, after Rehnquist’s confirmation vote (68-26).

President Nixon: Well, you must feel like Chief Justice [Charles Evans] Hughes. He had 26 voting against him, too.

Justice William Rehnquist: Is that the exact number?

President Nixon: Fifty-two to twenty-six. I just got it in front of me, so you can go out and say, “Well, like Hughes, I had 26 against.” But you had 68 for.

Rehnquist: Gee, you’re a much better—

President Nixon: Yeah. There’s only one thing, though. I just damn near withdrew your nomination before, because I was just talking to [Treasury Secretary] John Connally and he showed me an article by [columnist] Joe Kraft endorsing you and I said, “I’ve made a mistake.”

Rehnquist: Hahahaha.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Rehnquist: Listen, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your giving me this opportunity.

President Nixon: Yeah, yeah, yeah. This is a great thing. This is a great thing to be such a young man to go on the court. You’ll make a great record and, you know, the very fact that, uh . . . the only thing—I’ll give you only one last bit of advice, because you’re going to be independent, naturally, and that is, don’t let the fact that you were under heat change any of your views.

Rehnquist: I’ll remember that.

President Nixon: Don’t ever let—I told [Chief Justice] Warren Burger that. I said, “Now, Warren,” you know, ‘cause—except that he didn’t get much heat, but I said, “Judge, don’t come down here”—that’s the way I put it to him—“and let the Washington social set change you.”

Rehnquist: Well—

President Nixon: So just be as mean and rough as they said you were. Okay?

Rehnquist: Thanks, Mr. President.

President Nixon: All right, [unclear] good luck. Bye.

Rehnquist: Thanks a lot. Bye.

I would love to hear these conversations between other Presidents and the Justices they appoint. I imagine Bill Clinton told Justice Breyer to stay off the bicycle. Oh well.