Rehnquist's Pajamas

The late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist took a powerful sedative during his first decade on the Supreme Court and grew so dependent on it that he became delusional and tried to escape from a hospital in his pajamas when he stopped taking the drug in 1981, according to newly released FBI files.

The files also show that during both of Rehnquist’s confirmation battles – when he was first named to the court by President Richard Nixon in 1971 and when President Ronald 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.

It gets better:

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 Feb. 7, 1982.

The Post reported at the time that the FBI was stirring controversy by questioning potential witnesses against Rehnquist, including Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe. When a Harvard official complained that the interviews were “seriously intimidating,” Kleindienst wrote back that the questioning was impartial and that “any assumption that interviews were conducted with a view toward ‘intimidation’ is completely unjustified.”

In 1986, the FBI files show, Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked the FBI to interview witnesses who might testify about allegations that Rehnquist had “challenged” blacks waiting in line to vote in Phoenix in 1962. Rehnquist was a legal adviser to the local Republican Party at the time.

Thurmond’s request was relayed to the FBI by John R. Bolton, who was then an assistant attorney general and who recently stepped down as ambassador to the United Nations after the Senate did not act on his nomination. Although an FBI official warned that the bureau might be accused of “intimidating the Democrats’ witnesses,” Bolton approved the request and wrote that he would “accept responsibility should concerns be raised about the role of the FBI.”

Bolton said in a telephone interview yesterday that there was no political bias in the investigation, because the request actually came from Senate Democrats.

I was just coming here to post the link to that. Wacky, wacky stuff. Too bad none of those ravings made it into Supreme Court briefs… OR DID THEY???

I like the way the drug problem was covered up and he wasn’t indicted. Two sets of laws.

It sounds like he was abusing perscription medicine. Is there a law against that?

Well, typically you’re given a specific amount of the medication that should last for a certain amount of time. If he was taking that much of the stuff, he probably was obtaining prescriptions from alternate doctors, because any regular doctor, after running out of his 30 day supply in 10 days, would recognize a problem and not prescribe him the drug anymore. There’s no evidence that he was doctor shopping, but it’s pretty likely that someone, maybe the doctor(s) he was receiving the prescriptions from, broke the law. You can’t abuse a sedative to the point that withdrawal makes you delusional without going above and beyond normal prescription routine.

Naw, there’s just the one set of law. It’s just that if you’re very influential, there are no laws.

When I become rich and powerful, I’m gonna kill me a hooker.

I agree there was a problem, but I’m asking if there is a particular law he broke. I could be wrong, but I don’t think he broke any laws.

Looking at the laws, manufacture and distribution is illegal when you break the rules defined for the schedule of the drug. Possession, however, is apparently only illegal for schedule 1 drugs like heroin in quantities indicating that you’re going to distribute it. That reminds me that the crack possession threshold is stupidly low, so effectively every user is considered a dealer.

The states all criminalize possession in some way, though. Under Virginia state law, possessing marijuana is a misdemeanor that will get you up to 30 days in jail. Can’t figure out if prescription drug abuse is a misdemeanor in Virginia.

That just reinforces the two sets of laws point, though. Rich people abusing prescription drugs don’t have anything happen to them, even though they’re doing the exact same thing.

I agree that the drug laws seem hopelessly random, but I’m not sure prescription drug abuse qualifies as a rich man’s problem. There are plenty of Wall Street brokers addicted to heroin. Lots of housewives abusing prescription drugs.

Slaying the Dragon is an interesting book that attempts to document alcohol and drug treatment throughout American history. It’s a little dry and the author seems to favor Alcoholics Anonymous (despite including a chapter that attempts to objectivly criticizing AA), but it’s interesting to read about how public opinion has swayed between moral imperative to health crisis over the years. In some ways public opinion is more progressive than ever before, but the drug laws are evidence of the moral imperative years.

Well, the brokers don’t get prosecuted for heroin possession either, do they?

The fact laws may or may not have been broken here seems secondary to me. The big issues are witness intimidation, the Republicans appearing to use the FBI to harass potential witnesses, and the fact there was a sitting Chief Justice with what must have been a known problem. Are we to believe that before his treatment this addiction didn’t affect his judgement at all and that nobody was aware of this going on?

Me, I’m just waiting for the Will Ferrell movie.

He died of an OD. At a certian point, the drugs level the playing field regardless of your financial situation.

You have a valid point: money can move the system like nothing else. But at some point even money won’t protect you from the inevitalbe, as Rehnquist’s experience seems to indicate. I guess it’s hard for me to muster outrage that he wasn’t prosecuted for falling victim to his meds. He was wandering around in his PJs, not doing stick ups.

Witness intimidation and the use of the FBI are big issues.

But what are you going to do about Rehnquist’s problem? People get sick and need to be treated. It’s not like this somehow invalidates all his work from prior to his treatment. This kind of moralistic view of addiction is what leads to all the crazy drug laws.

Perhaps “people get sick and should be treated” should be extended to schedule one drugs, then, rather than chucking people in jail for crack possession? You guys probably would support it, but its a vanishingly small number out there otherwise that would apparently.

Absolutely. For the most part, the only way to get a crack addict (or heroin or meth) into treatment is to hold the threat of serious jail time over their head. That doesn’t mean I completely agree with the drug laws, but attitudes today are further along than ever before.

Can you name a prior time when Americans have been more progressive about drug laws?

Depends what you mean by “drug laws”. I guess right after Prohibition was repealed was the high point.

Look, how is noticing that a guy with a drug problem is likely suffering from psychological effects a ‘moralistic’ judgement? If he accidently took a nail gun to the forehead and gave himself a quickie frontal lobotomy but somehow managed to cover it up and those around him covered as well, I’d have the same issue. It’s not Rehnquist I’m worried about, per se, but the idea that he was covered for - he had to have been, all those years.

He’s not a bad person, just a crazy person!