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10 Tex. Rev. L. & Pol. 283 (2006)


My favorite William Rehnquist quote is this, from Kansas v. Colorado: “The Arkansas River rises on the east side of the Continental Divide, between Climax and Leadville, Colorado. Thence it flows south and east through Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, emptying into the Mississippi River, which in turn flows into the Gulf of Mexico. As if to prove that the ridge that separates them is indeed the Continental Divide, a short distance away from the source of the Arkansas, the Colorado River rises and thence flows southwest through Colorado, Utah, and Arizona, and finally empties into the Gulf of Baja, California. . . . The Arkansas River is unique in that the pronunciation of its name changes from State to State. In Colorado, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, it is pronounced as is the name of the State of Arkansas, but in Kansas, it is pronounced Ar-KAN-sas."

People laugh or think that I am kidding when I say this is one of my favorite Chief quotes, but it is. It is not because it is endearingly idiosyncratic—although it is; or because it reminds me of pleasant conversations; or because I do not appreciate the significance of his work in so many important areas, from criminal procedure to religious freedom. I agree with former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger, who observed that the Chief is one of the dominant Justices in our nation's history. Professor Chemerinsky has reported several times that there is not an area of the law where he has not had an impact, and Professor Chemerinsky is right.

For all of Chief Justice Rehnquist's achievements and influences, for me the Arkansas River travelogue stands out because of its down-to-earthiness, its rootedness, and its affectionate appreciation for the concrete. For me, it evokes the Chief’s healthy focus on the value, interest, and importance of ordinary life and his attraction to the really human things.



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