Friday, January 05, 2007

the rehnquist we hardly knew

now that former chief justice rehnquist has been dead for a while, his old secret papers are starting to come out. the most telling detail (so far?) in these newly released documents is that "during both of Rehnquist's confirmation battles — when he was first named to the court by President Nixon in 1971 and when President Reagan nominated him as chief justice in 1986 — the Justice Department enlisted the FBI to find out what witnesses lined up by Senate Democrats were prepared to say." if reagan and nixon were already abusing the fbi to stifle criticism of court appointees, one can only imagine the sorts of dirty tricks that the bush administration might have engaged in during its many contentious nominations.

and guess who personally approved the plan, and was prepared to personally take the heat in case democrats complained that the fbi had been spying on their witnesses? none other than everyone's favorite political moustache (and future ex-UN ambassador) john bolton!

but the juiciest, most salacious detail to come out of the papers (so far?) is that rehnquist was hooked on the pills throughout the '70s and into the early '80s (read: about the first third of his time in the supreme court):

During its 1986 investigation, the FBI concluded Rehnquist began taking the drug Placidyl for insomnia following back surgery in 1971, the year before he joined the court. By 1981 he apparently was taking 1,500 milligrams each night, three times the usual starting dose.

Placidyl is a sedative that is not usually prescribed for more than a week at a time. It is not an opiate and is not a painkiller, but it is addictive, and withdrawal can cause hallucinations and temporary memory loss.

The justice was weaned off Placidyl in early 1982 over the course of a month, according to the records. The hospital doctor who treated Rehnquist said the Capitol Hill physician who prescribed Placidyl for Rehnquist was practicing bad medicine, bordering on malpractice. Both doctors' names were redacted from the documents.

Doctors interviewed by the FBI told agents that when the associate justice stopped taking the drug, he suffered paranoid delusions. One doctor said Rehnquist thought he heard voices outside his hospital room plotting against him and had "bizarre ideas and outrageous thoughts," including imagining "a CIA plot against him" and "seeming to see the design patterns on the hospital curtains change configuration."

At one point, a doctor told the investigators, Rehnquist went "to the lobby in his pajamas in order to try to escape." Ultimately, the doctors concluded that the withdrawal symptoms were so severe that they began giving Rehnquist the drug again and slowly lowered the dosage until he quit taking it entirely on Feb. 7, 1982.

By 1986, the files show, all the doctors interviewed by the FBI said the former drug dependence should not affect Rehnquist's work on the court.

so by the time he became chief justice, he was sobered up, but went through an apparently nasty addiction and delusional withdrawal while serving on the supreme court.

also, some parts of the documents are still blacked out:

In one previously secret memo from 1971, an FBI official wrote: "No persons interviewed during our current or 1969 investigation furnished information bearing adversely on Rehnquist's morals or professional integrity; however ..."

The next third of the page is blacked out, under the disclosure law's exception for matters of national security.

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