Giving him “H”

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The late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist could tell a good story. He once regaled the Supreme Court press corps with how his mother had insisted he change his middle name to Hubbs, so that he could have the initial H. This happened when Rehnquist, who grew up in suburban Milwaukee, was about 17 years old and after his mother had met a numerologist on a train ride. The man told Margery Rehnquist that young Bill would become a professional success if his middle name were changed and began with an H. Hubbs was a family name and easy enough to take on — although, as Rehnquist told it, his mother had to go to court to make it official. Rehnquist, as chief justice, seemed amused by the whole affair and a bit in wonder of whether the H had paid off.

At the Supreme Court yesterday, December 10, in an “Unveiling Ceremony” for the white marble bust of Rehnquist, who died in September 2005, his son Jim told an equally amusing story. He recounted how his father, a former assistant attorney general, was in the fall of 1971 on a Justice Department team screening potential nominees for two Supreme Court openings (caused by the retirements of Justices Hugo Black and John Marshall Harlan). The Nixon administration had run through several possible choices without success. One day Jim came home from school and found his father, as usual, downstairs watching TV while eating the standard fare of vanilla wafer cookies and apple juice. His father said President Nixon was ready to announce his two appointees the next day: Richmond lawyer Lewis F. Powell — “and me.”

            “And I said, ‘What?!’”

            “Yeah,” the old man said, “Do you believe it?”

            “And,” son Jim added at yesterday’s ceremony, “the rest is history.”

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