William Rehnquist was by all accounts a fascinating man. His work in the judiciary was unparalleled: he served on the Supreme Court as a justice for over three decades, and led the court as Chief Justice for nineteen years. He was a justice voting on the controversial Roe v. Wade case (Rehnquist wrote the dissent), the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, and for the dispute over 2000 presidential election.
As a justice for the Supreme Court, Rehnquist lived his life under public scrutiny—but only a very few got to know the man as not a justice, but a friend. Herman J. Obermayer was one of those people whom Rehnquist called friends, and he chronicles his friendship with the justice in his new book, Rehnquist: A Personal Portrait of the Distinguished Chief Justice of the United States.
Obermayer spoke about his new book at a recent Heritage Foundation event, telling stories of his time with “Bill” and the parts they played in each other’s lives.
Rehnquist was “frugal with his own and others’ money,” Obermayer said, relating the story of how he and Rehnquist first met. They met at a country club playing tennis, and would take turns replacing the tennis balls. Obermayer talked about how he had always assumed you should replace the tennis balls after they started to look a little worn; on the other hand, Rehnquist “didn’t think we should buy new balls until they lost a little fuzz,” Obermayer said, adding that Rehnquist thought it “wasteful” to replace balls before that point.
This attitude, Obermayer said, was something that came through in every aspect of Rehnquist’s life: as a judge, as a husband, as a friend. He was always wise about money and property.
Obermayer laughed as he told a story of Rehnquist’s frugality at a restaurant. “We went out to a restaurant together for lunch…and when the check came he asked if I was figuring the tip before or after taxes,” Obermayer said. “I told him I figured it after taxes. And he explained to me that he didn’t believe in tipping somebody for being a tax collector.”
Rehnquist died in 2005, but his influence in America is still present. His many years as a Supreme Court justice have left their mark on this great nation, and his spirit lives on in friends like Herman Obermayer.