Chief Justice Burger Quits : Rehnquist to Succeed Him; D.C. Judge Picked for Vacancy : Both of the Appointees Staunch Conservatives
President Reagan announced today that Warren E. Burger is retiring after 17 years as chief justice of the Supreme Court and said he will nominate Justice William Rehnquist to replace him.
Reagan said he will nominate Judge Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, a conservative, to replace Rehnquist. If confirmed, Scalia will be the first American of Italian descent to serve on the court.
The move--giving Reagan his second appointment to the high court--is not expected to sharply alter the court’s ideological make-up, because of the swap of Scalia, known as an articulate apostle of judicial restraint, for Burger, who led the high court in a period of withdrawal from activism of the late 1950s and ‘60s.
The unexpected announcements were made to a live, national television audience from the White House briefing room. Reagan was flanked by Scalia, Rehnquist and Burger.
Burger said he will devote his time to organizing ceremonies surrounding the 200th anniversary of the Constitution in 1987. The retiring chief justice, chairman of the bicentennial commission, said the effort to celebrate the anniversary is behind schedule and underfunded.
The nominations of Rehnquist and Scalia must be confirmed by the Senate.
Rep. Barney Frank, a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts, commented: “I thought Burger would step down for Reagan. Scalia’s a lot brighter than Burger, but I don’t see any ideological shift.”
“If it were not for the bicentennial, I would not have retired,” Burger told reporters. His decision allowed Reagan to name a much younger man whose influence is likely to long survive the Reagan Administration.
Burger is 78, Rehnquist 61 and Scalia 50.
“Justice Rehnquist has been an associate justice of the Supreme Court since 1971, a role in which he has served with great distinction and skill. He is noted for his intellectual power, the lucidity of his opinions and the respect he enjoys among his colleagues,” Reagan said.
Rehnquist was a 47-year-old assistant attorney general when President Richard M. Nixon appointed him to the court in 1971, succeeding John Marshall Harlan. He was the youngest appointee in the court’s history. Before his service at the Justice Department, Rehnquist was a lawyer in Phoenix.
The effective date of Burger’s departure is July 10. By that time, the court expects to finish its business for the current term.
Asked about the toughest case that he faced on the court, Burger declined to single one out but he said it was not the case involving Nixon’s attempt to withhold his Watergate tapes from the Senate. The disclosure of the tapes led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974.
Praise for ‘Uniqueness’
Reagan said of Scalia: “His great personal energy, the force of his intellect, the depth of his understanding of our constitutional jurisprudence uniquely qualify him for elevation to our highest court.”
Reagan praised Scalia for his “uniqueness.”
Scalia was the chief of the three-judge special court panel that ruled unconstitutional the Gramm-Rudman deficit reduction law. An appeal has been heard by the Supreme Court, and a decision is pending.
In his letter to Reagan, Burger said he cannot devote full time to both chief justice’s duties and his chores as chairman of the Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution.
“Accordingly, I have resolved to request that I be relieved as chief justice of the United States effective July 10, 1986, or as soon thereafter as my successor is qualified.”
The news conference became a good-natured affair. Scalia was asked by a reporter to give the proper pronunciation of his name. “Scal-I-a” was the way he pronounced it.
Will Miss ‘Nothing’
Asked to sum up his tenure, Burger, who was appointed by Nixon, said, “That would take me 17 years.”
Asked what he would miss, he replied, “Really, nothing.”
Scalia is the second nomination Reagan has made to the high court. The first was Sandra Day O’Connor, a law school classmate of Rehnquist at Stanford.
Burger was asked if he was leaving for reasons of health.
He smiled: “You make the diagnosis. Do I look as though I’m falling apart? . . . I never felt better in my life.”
Scalia was born March 11, 1936, in Trenton, N.J. He was appointed to the appeals court by Reagan in 1982.
He received his education at Georgetown University in Washington and the University of Fribourg in Switzerland and at Harvard Law School.
Has Nine Children
Before he became a judge, he was a law professor and an assistant attorney general.
Scalia, a Roman Catholic, has nine children.
He said that “for someone who’s spent his whole personal life in the law, being nominated for the Supreme Court is the culmination of a dream, of course.”
He ducked questions about where he stands on the abortion issue. The court, voting 5 to 4 with Burger in dissent, ruled last week in favor of a woman’s right to abortion.
Burger joshed about the court’s still-awaited decision on the constitutionality of the Gramm-Rudman balanced budget act. ABC News reported Sunday that the court had decided 7 to 2 that a key portion of the law was unconstitutional. But the court did not hand the decision down on Monday, as ABC News had said it would.
Burger said: “Don’t you read those things? I thought that came down a week ago.”
Burger was asked if he would change some of the opinions he had written.
Would Shorten Opinions
“I wish some of them were a little shorter,” he said.
As for being nominated to become chief justice, Rehnquist said, “It’s not everyday when you’re 61 years old that you get to take on a new job.”
In making the announcement, Reagan urged the Senate to act quickly, and Sen. Strom Thurmond, (R-S.C.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said preparations for the hearing will begin “right away.” He forecast approval for Rehnquist, saying that he would “make a great chief justice,” and that “we can get Scalia confirmed, too.”
Among the remarks from Capitol Hill:
Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.): Rehnquist “never varies like some of the others do.” The court will become “even more conservative because of Rehnquist’s views on due process and Scalia’s views on abortion.”
House Judiciary Chairman Peter W. Rodino (D-N.J.): “Surprised? Yes, but beyond that I’m not going to make any comment.”
Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.): “I do think there’s no question that Rehnquist will run a much tighter ship. Scalia is very young and he has passed the litmus test” with conservatives, " and I find that very frightening. . . . I have real trouble in believing that Chief Justice Burger really did step down to chair that commission.”