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William Rehnquist was confirmed to the Supreme Court on December 10, 1971. photo: USIA

On the night of Thursday, October 21, 1971, President Nixon told the nation of his long-awaited nominations. After his announcement, President Nixon spoke again with Attorney General John Mitchell. He crowed with satisfaction about the men he picked and, with equal glee, at how he had surprised the press. In this call, Mitchell is hard to hear.

Listen to excerpt

President Nixon: ...But on the other hand, we really threw a bombshell at these bastards tonight, didn't we?

John Mitchell: We really did--

RMN: What do you think?

JM: Well, let me tell you, they were just so flabbergasted they didn't know what to say...

RMN: Are they?...Of course, that first in his class is what these goddamn snobs - that's what impresses them. And law clerk to Jackson, that impressed Meany, they tell me...

RMN: This means, John, that we will have appointed four good men. Everybody recognizes that Burger is a good man, Blackmun is a good man, Powell, a course, everyone will recognize it. And Rehnquist is the smartest of the whole goddamn bunch

JM: (Unintelligible)

RMN: (Laughs) And he's on our side, isn't he?

JM: I think you did a great thing for the court.

RMN: I really built them up. You know, and I talked about respect the law, whether you agree and obey the law and all that. And they oughta appreciate it, the bastards-

JM: Well they should, and said it in a very mild mannered way. You got across to the American public

RMN: Be sure to emphasize to all the Southerners that Rehnquist is a reactionary bastard, which I hope to Christ he is. In a pure press sense, it's like China--the bastards were completely taken by surprise. They didn't know what the hell was gonna hit 'em. Ha! Doesn't that amuse you? We kept it quiet...

Read the full transcript

On December 10, 1971, William Rehnquist was confirmed by the Senate. President Nixon called to congratulate him.

Listen to excerpt

Operator: Mr. Rehnquist

President Nixon: Well, you must feel like Chief Justice Hughes - he had 26 voting against him too.

William Rehnquist: Is that the exact number?

RMN: 52 to 26, I just got in front of me, so you can go out and say, 'like Hughes, I had 26 against me' but you had 68 for. There's only one thing, I almost withdrew your nomination before, because I was talking to John Connelly and he showed me an article by Joe Kraft endorsing you, and I said I've made a mistake.

WR: Listen, I can't tell you how much I appreciate your giving me this opportunity.

RMN: Well, this is a great thing - to be such a young man, to go on the Court. You'll make a great record and, you know, the very fact that--I'll give you one last bit of advice because you're going to be independent, naturally. And that is, don't let the fact that you were under heat change any of your views.

WR: I'll remember that, Mr. President.

RMN: I told Warren Burger that, and he didn't get much heat, but I told him, just don't come down here-the way I put it to him-- and let the Washington social set change you. So just be as mean and rough as they said you were. Ok?

WR: Thanks, Mr. President.

RMN: Good luck. Bye.


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