Rehnquist, who championed states' rights and helped speed up executions, is the only member still on the court who voted on Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion. He opposed that decision, writing: "Even today, when society's views on abortion are changing, the very existence of the debate is evidence that the `right' to an abortion is not so universally accepted as (Roe) would have us believe."

He believed there was a place for some religion in government. He wrote the 5-4 decision in 2002 that said parents may use public tax money to send their children to religious schools. Two years later, he was distressed when the court passed up a chance to declare that the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is constitutional.

"The phrase 'under God' in the pledge seems, as a historical matter, to sum up the attitude of the nation's leaders, and to manifest itself in many of our public observances," he wrote.

Rehnquist leaves without accomplishing the legal revolution he had hoped for as the nation's 16th chief justice. As Rehnquist read it, the Constitution lets states outlaw abortion and sponsor prayers in public schools but bars them from giving special, affirmative-action preferences to racial minorities and women. The court he led disagreed.

In 2003, for example, the court preserved affirmative action in college admissions and issued a landmark gay rights ruling that struck down laws criminalizing gay sex, both over Rehnquist's objections. And last year, Rehnquist disagreed when the court ruled that the government cannot indefinitely detain terrorism suspects and deny them access to courts

Rehnquist was somewhat of a surprise choice when Nixon nominated him to the court in 1971. He was a 47-year-old Justice Department lawyer with a reputation for brilliance and unbending conservative ideology when he was chosen to fill the seat of retiring Justice John Marshall Harlan. Rehnquist, who practiced law in Phoenix before moving to Washington, was the court's youngest member.

For years he was known as the "Lone Ranger" for his many dissents on a then-liberal court that left him ideologically isolated on the far right. Succeeding appointments of conservative justices and Rehnquist's elevation by President Reagan to the federal judiciary's top job in 1986 transformed his role into one of leading and nurturing an increasingly conservative Supreme Court.

Rehnquist was the force behind the court's push for greater states' rights. The chief justice has been the leader of five conservatives, sometimes called "the Rehnquist five," who generally advocate limited federal government interference.

Those five - Rehnquist and O'Connor, Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Thomas - have voted together to strike down federal laws intended to protect female victims of violent crime and keep guns away from schools, on grounds that those issues were better dealt with at the local level. They split, however, in a recent decision upholding the federal government's right to ban sick people from smoking marijuana even in states that have laws allowing the treatment.

The Rehnquist five were together in the Bush v. Gore decision, which critics predicted would tarnish the court's hard-won luster. The closing paragraph of a book Rehnquist wrote on the court's history may stand as his answer to criticism.

Rehnquist noted that the court makes "demonstrable errors" from time to time, but he added, "It and the country have survived these mistakes and the court as an institution has steadily grown in authority and prestige."

Rehnquist, a widower since 1991, dodged questions about his legacy in a March 2004 interview. He said that he tried to keep the court running smoothly and keep the peace among the justices.

Within the court, Rehnquist was a far more popular chief justice than his predecessor, Warren Burger. Liberal Justice John Paul Stevens said in 2002 that Rehnquist brought "efficiency, good humor and absolute impartiality" to the job. Some justices complained that Burger was heavy-handed and pompous.

Rehnquist's grandparents emigrated to the United States from Sweden in 1880 and settled in Chicago. His grandfather was a tailor, his grandmother a school teacher. Rehnquist grew up in Wisconsin, the son of paper salesman and a translator.

He at first had planned to be a college professor, but a test showed him suited to the legal field. In 1952, he graduated first in his class at Stanford University's law school, where he briefly dated O'Connor, the high court's first female justice.

Rehnquist caused great amusement when he departed from tradition by adding four shiny gold stripes to each sleeve of his black robe in 1995. The flourish was inspired by a costume in a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta.

Rehnquist has led a quiet social life outside the court. Until recently, he walked daily, as tonic for a chronic bad back, and played tennis with his law clerks. He enjoyed bridge, spending time with his eight grandchildren, charades and a monthly poker game with Scalia and a revolving cast of powerful Washington men. He liked beer, and smoked in private.

The only chief justice older than Rehnquist was Roger Taney, who presided over the high court in the mid-1800s until his death at 87. Rehnquist was also closing in on the record for longest-serving justice. Only four men were on the court 34 years or longer.


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