We’re reading Tony Mauro’s super-juicy article as fast as we can. Highlights and discussion will follow shortly.
Okay, we’re done. Here are some excerpts:
The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s Senate confirmation battles in 1971 and 1986 were more intense and political than previously known, according to a newly released FBI file that also offers dramatic new details about Rehnquist’s 1981 hospitalization and dependence on a painkiller….
In July 1986, when President Ronald Reagan nominated Rehnquist to be chief justice, the Justice Department asked the FBI to interview witnesses who were preparing to testify that Rehnquist had intimidated minority voters as a Republican Party official in Arizona in the early 1960s. According to a memo in the Rehnquist file, an unnamed FBI official cautioned that the department “should be sensitive to the possibility that Democrats could charge the Republicans of misusing the FBI and intimidating the Democrats’ witnesses.” But then-Assistant Attorney General John Bolton — who more recently served as ambassador to the United Nations — signed off on the request and said he would “accept responsibility should concerns be raised about the role of the FBI.” It is unclear whether the FBI ever interviewed the witnesses.
John Bolton? That guy is everywhere! Did he have the walrus moustache back then?
More discussion — including tales of Rehnquist’s “bizarre ideas and outrageous thoughts,” his paranoia that the CIA was out to get him, and his attempt to escape from a hospital while in pajamas — after the jump.
While he was alive, Chief Justice Rehnquist sometimes seemed a bit dry to us. But perhaps we were mistaken. This is pretty colorful stuff:
Also in 1986, the FBI conducted an intensive investigation into Rehnquist’s dependence on Placidyl, a strong painkiller that he had taken since the early 1970s for insomnia and back pain. Rehnquist’s bout with drug dependence had been made public in 1981, when he was hospitalized for his back pain and suffered withdrawal symptoms when he stopped taking the drug.
The FBI’s 1986 report on Rehnquist’s drug dependence was not released at the time of his confirmation, though some Democratic senators wanted it made public. But it is in Rehnquist’s now-public file, and it contains new details about his behavior during his weeklong hospital stay in December 1981. One physician whose name is blocked out told the FBI that Rehnquist expressed “bizarre ideas and outrageous thoughts. He imagined, for example, that there was a CIA plot against him.”
Whoa. Actually, double whoa. Sure, the CIA is out to get lots of people — that’s their job. But why would they be after someone like Rehnquist, a longtime public servant and high-ranking federal official?
The doctor said Rehnquist “had also gone to the lobby in his pajamas in order to try to escape.” The doctor said Rehnquist’s delirium was consistent with him suddenly stopping his apparent daily dose of 1400 milligrams of the drug — nearly three times higher than the 500-milligram maximum recommended by physicians. The doctor said, “Any physician who prescribed it was practicing very bad medicine, bordering on malpractice.”
The image of a pajama-clad Rehnquist trying to bust out of a hospital just floors us. If this were a movie, we’d call it Justice, Interrupted. Or maybe One Flew Over One First Street.
This next part is kinda scary, considering Rehnquist’s high station. Check it out:
Though his name was blacked out, Dr. Freeman Cary, then the attending physician of the Capitol — whose services are also available to Supreme Court justices — told agents that he began prescribing Placidyl to Rehnquist in 1972 for insomnia and continued to do so until the 1981 episode. For six or seven months before Rehnquist’s hospitalization in 1981, Cary indicated, Rehnquist was re-filling three-month prescriptions for Placidyl every month — suggesting he was taking close to 1,500 milligrams daily instead of 500.
When Rehnquist went into George Washington University Hospital in December 1981, he was seeking relief for his back but, according to some of the physicians interviewed, also knew he had a drug problem. Rehnquist’s episode with delusions came when doctors ended his Placidyl. Doctors then resumed his high dosage so as to wean him off the drug slowly, reducing gradually until he stopped taking the drug altogether in February 1982. At that point, doctors said Rehnquist was cured of his dependence.
Over the years, William Rehnquist mellowed as a jurist. He went from being “the Lone Ranger” of the right to a (somewhat) more moderate justice. Could the evolution of his jurisprudence be connected in any way to his alleged drug dependency — and his being cured of it, in the early 1980’s?
The article closes with this great story:
The level of detail is humorous at times. In the 1969 background check that preceded his nomination as assistant attorney general, Rehnquist acknowledged he might have been arrested in 1942.
Then a Kenyon College freshman, Rehnquist said, he went to Kent State University to visit a friend one weekend. Because of some miscommunication, the friend had left town, leaving Rehnquist with nowhere to stay. He said he “had no money with which to obtain a hotel room. I therefore lay down on the courthouse lawn at Ravenna, a neighboring town, to spend the night,” Rehnquist told the FBI. “A policeman came along, told me that sleeping on the courthouse lawn was not allowed, that he would arrange for me to sleep in jail. This he did, and I believe, though I am not certain, that I was charged with vagrancy.” Rehnquist added he was released the next morning and no further action was taken.
We can’t help wondering: Would the late Chief have been sympathetic towards this Ninth Circuit ruling?
Rehnquist FBI File Sheds New Light on Confirmation Battles, Drug Dependence [Legal Times]