Ted Cruz on his year with CJ Rehnquist

June 29th, 2015

Following up from my previous post about Cruz’s internet-porn-watching party with Justice O’Connor and Rehnquist, Sen. Cruz has a lengthy article at Politico concerning his year at the Court.


Hubbs zings Powell:

Justice Lewis Powell, for example, was a colonel in World War II. “You know,” he once quipped to the chief, “I outrank you.” Without missing a beat, Rehnquist replied, “Not anymore.”

On the interview process:

I soon learned why Rehnquist spent so little time interviewing his law clerks. He was one of the most brilliant human beings on the planet. He could have done the job with his eyes closed and without a single assistant.

I met him in his spacious chambers at the back of the Supreme Court Building, right behind the courtroom. A tall man with thinning black hair, long sideburns and oversize glasses, he ambled up and offered me a chair. The chief wore big wide ties with floral patterns and Hush Puppies.

With his first question, I knew that my recommendation strategy had paid off. “You know, I’ve got two recommendations here from Charles Fried and Alan Dershowitz,” he said, in his deep, gentle voice. Rehnquist knew as well as anyone how diametrically opposed the two men were. He had a slight grin. “So, I wonder, how on earth is that possible?”

“Maybe one of them was confused,” I said. He laughed.

I told him a little about my background. When I described my father’s past, fighting in the Cuban Revolution, it piqued his interest. Afterward, when I recounted the interview to my dad, I kidded my father by telling him that I had described him as a communist guerrilla for Castro. My dad was horrified.

“I was never a communist!” he said indignantly. He was flabbergasted that the chief justice of the United States might have this mistaken impression.

As we continued talking, Rehnquist asked a question that seemed of great importance to him.

“Would you be willing to play tennis with me and my other clerks?”

He was, as I had learned, a devotee of the game. In fact, many of the clerks he tended to favor were skilled tennis players or even all-American athletes.

“Sure, sounds like fun,” I replied. I wanted the job badly, though I had to be honest. “I should tell you I’m not very good.”

Rehnquist laughed at what he apparently took for false modesty. What he didn’t know, but would soon learn, was that “not very good” was a boast bordering on hyperbole.

Apparently Souter ate his yogurt with fruit on the weekend:

David Souter had been appointed by President George H. W. Bush but fairly quickly became one of the more liberal justices. Raised in rural New Hampshire, he lived a simple, spartan life. When he hosted the clerks for lunch, he explained that each day he would have a bowl of yogurt. On the weekends he would have a bowl of yogurt, but with fruit.

I remember thinking, “He prefers it with fruit.” And it was interesting to me that he chose to deny himself that pleasure during the week.

Breyer apparently talks too loud about cases in public:

Justice Stephen Breyer, a 1994 Clinton appointee, can be delightfully charming. He did have a habit of speaking quite loudly about pending cases—in places like public restaurants. On occasion that would cause his clerks considerable consternation.

He has a great story about Justice Thomas, involving Notre Dame LawProf Rick Garnett:

With his welcoming demeanor and deep, hearty laugh—imagine Santa Claus bellowing “ho, ho, ho”—Clarence Thomas has carried out dozens of acts of kindness on the court, the kind never reported by the mainstream media. An illustrative story involved one of my co-clerks, Rick Garnett, who had worked the previous year as a clerk in Little Rock, Arkansas. There he and his wife had befriended and tutored a young African-American boy named Carlos. The boy had never left Arkansas before, but Rick and his wife paid to fly him up to D.C. Rick emailed all nine chambers at the court, saying that this young boy would be in town, and asking if any of the justices would be willing to meet with him. Two offices responded—those of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Clarence Thomas. Ginsburg is an incredibly talented lawyer and jurist, and it was very kind of her to meet with Carlos, but her prim demeanor is that of a legal librarian, and so it was difficult for her and the young boy from Arkansas to connect. Clarence Thomas understood the world that Carlos had come from.

At the end of their two-hour conversation, Carlos observed that Thomas was a Dallas Cowboys fan. (Thomas had a framed picture of himself with quarterback Troy Aikman in his office.) The kid was very impressed—that was way cooler than the Supreme Court—and Thomas noticed. So Thomas rose from his chair, walked to his desk, and showed the boy a Super Bowl ticket, encased in Lucite, and signed by Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith. He handed the ticket to the young man.

“I’m going to give you this,” Thomas said. “But I want you to promise me that you will get A’s in school next year.”

The young man, astonished and wide-eyed, nodded in agreement.

This story of the Chief and Ted taking a stroll down First Street is perfect:

The court heard about 80 cases during the term I clerked, and each of the chief’s clerks was responsible for knowing about one-third of them. It was a lot to juggle in your head without notes. And the way the chief justice liked to prepare for oral arguments could be disconcerting. He could come by our desks at any time to talk about a case.

“Ted,” he might say, “are you ready to discuss Smith v. Jones?”

We knew what came next. I’d say, “Yes, Chief,” and get up and go outside for a walk with him. Without any notes at my disposal we’d discuss that case’s merits.

As we strolled down First Street across from the U.S. Capitol, he’d say things like, “So, Ted, what did you think of the argument in footnote seventeen of the petitioner’s brief? I didn’t find it very persuasive.”

“Uh, I agree, Chief,” I’d respond, struggling to remember the footnote he was citing.

And tourists asked the Chief to take their pictures in front of the Court:

We would do laps around the building. A kindly looking gentleman, often wearing a cap, Rehnquist was frequently stopped on the street by tourists asking him, a passerby, to take photographs of their families standing in front of the Supreme Court or the Capitol. He was so down-to-earth, so approachable, that he could be as comfortable with a plumber as he could a poet. And he was hardly ever recognized.

Each time he was stopped to take a photo, the chief would smile and say gamely, “Sure.”

To this day, hundreds of people have had their picture taken in front of the Supreme Court by the chief justice of the United States and never knew it. That made him chuckle.

The Chief’s lunch was not quite as spartan as Souter’s but pretty bare.

He was not a man of airs. For lunch, he would usually order the same thing—a simple menu of a cheeseburger and a Miller Lite, or as he called it, “a Miller’s Lite.” And he’d smoke a single cigarette. His townhome in Arlington, Virginia, was modest; there were no signs of pretense or grandeur. Sometimes he had the clerks over to play charades. My favorite memory of him remains the time he grabbed a slip of paper, fell to the ground, and lay on his belly pantomiming firing a rifle. “Pow! Pow!” he called out. (No one told the chief that you didn’t talk in charades.) His charade was “All Quiet on the Western Front.”