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Abstract

In this article, we explore Chief Justice Rehnquist’s criminal justice decisions through an empirical analysis of the Court’s decision-making tendencies for the most recent natural court and a review of selected criminal justice decisions written by Justice Rehnquist throughout his career. To start, we limit the analysis, with only two exceptions, to decisions actually written by Justice Rehnquist. Although Chief Justice Rehnquist, in that position, had an important role in leading other justices to agree with him by assigning cases, we gleaned a substantial amount of information regarding his decisional patterns and policy preferences by analyzing the opinions he personally authored. The focus of this inquiry, then, is Justice Rehnquist’s actual opinions and not his votes in other cases. This empirical analysis is complemented and given context by a discussion of the overall thrust of criminal justice cases decided by the Court in the last decade...In Section II we provide a brief biographical sketch of Justice Rehnquist’s education and career. We then analyze the criminal justice decisions of the most recent Rehnquist Court using cases from 1995-2005 in Section III. This time frame captures Rehnquist’s last natural court with the exception of the first term. Although Justice Breyer–the last member to join the Court of interest here–served a full term in 1994, we do not include the 1994-1995 Term to avoid the risk that Breyer’s performance (and the Court’s more general decision patterns) might have been distorted by the “freshman effect.” In Section IV we extend the period under review and examine some of Justice Rehnquist’s written opinions, both as an Associate Justice and as Chief Justice. In the final section, we discuss the overall impact of Justice Rehnquist’s decisions on criminal justice issues and revisit the characterization of Rehnquist as central to a “law and order” shift.

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