Opposition to Rehnquist’s Nomination
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Opposition to Rehnquist’s Nomination

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The American Jewish Congress has strongly criticized President Reagan’s nomination of William Rehnquist as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, calling the choice “a serious error of judgment.”

AJCongress executive director Henry Siegman stressed in a statement that he was not questioning Rehnquist’s legal and intellectual qualifications, but was disturbed “that the nominee has chosen to use his considerable talents in ways that are antithetical to the fundamental principles of personal freedom and individual liberty.”

Charging that the Supreme Court Justice “has demonstrated throughout his career a regrettable insensitivity to the protection of minority and individual rights,” the statement lamented what it called a recent “pattern” of appointments by the Administration to the federal bench that reflects an “indifference to humane concerns.”

It warned that unless the pattern is reversed, it “can have a degrading effect on the quality of life of American justice for decades.”


Rehnquist, whose confirmation by the Senate is expected soon, has been widely criticized for his positions as Supreme Court Justice on legal cases involving individual civil rights. In recent confirmation hearings, witnesses charged him with having intimidated Black voters at Arizona polls in the early 1960’s, an accusation he has denied.

Another disclosure was made with the discovery that two deeds to homes owned by Rehnquist contained restrictive covenants — one in Arizona barring the sale of the property to Blacks, the other in Vermont forbidding ownership by “members of the Hebrew race.”

Rehnquist initially claimed he had been unaware of the restrictive clauses — which dated back to the early part of the century and would now be legally void. But he subsequently said that on reviewing old files he discovered that his attorney had informed him of the anti-Jewish clause in the deed to his Vermont home when he purchased it in 1974. Rehnquist was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1971.

The AJCongress statement made no specific reference to the discovery of the offensive deeds. But a statement by the Workmen’s Circle cited it as one of several reasons why the nomination should be withdrawn:

“The insensitivity displayed by Justice William Rehnquist toward the voting rights of fellow Americans; his knowledge of and failure to repudiate restrictive covenants on his home — even at the moment of judicial confirmation hearings — should disqualify him to be Chief Justice,” Dr. Barnett Zumoff, president of the national Jewish labor organization, said in a statement.


Other Jewish organization officials expressed shock and chagrin over the restrictive covenant revelations but have taken no public position on the nomination itself, other than to express concern about Rehnquist’s record on civil rights.

“We generally are somewhat hesitant about taking positions on individual candidates and individual nominees,” said David Gordis, Executive Vice President of the American Jewish Committee. But he added that “serious questions have been raised” about Rehnquist’s suitability for the post.

The Committee declined to co-sign a statement by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, to which it belongs, denouncing the Chief Justice nominee as “an extremist.” Among the statement’s signatories were the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the AFL-CIO.

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