Thursday, January 4, 2007

FBI Releases Rehnquist Records

It was only a matter of time before some records related to the late Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist came to light. Yesterday the FBI released records that researchers and news organizations had sought pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act. The Privacy Act, which protects some records from disclosure, only applied to the records during Rehnquist's lifetime.

According to reports from many sources today, the records contain details about many issues, including investigation of opponents to Rehnquist's nomination to the Court (see this) and embarrassing details about his health history (see this).

The New York Times reports:

The FBI on Wednesday released 1,561 pages of documents on Rehnquist to The Associated Press, other news organizations and scholars in response to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act following Rehnquist's death in September 2005. An additional 207 pages were withheld under the federal disclosure law, and the FBI said an entire section of his file could not be found.

Much of the FBI's file on Rehnquist appears to have been compiled almost exclusively for his two Senate confirmations -- his initial nomination to the court by President Nixon in 1971 and his nomination as chief justice by President Reagan in 1986. Administration officials apparently hoped to prevent any surprises from sinking his nominations.

[Note: I believe some version of this is common. Thurgood Marshall's file from 1960 on is full of material pertaining to his judicial nominations. What follows, however, is not typical.]

In 1971, Deputy Attorney General Richard Kleindienst directed the FBI to conduct investigations of witnesses who were planning to testify at a Senate hearing against Rehnquist's confirmation. Fifteen years later during the Reagan administration, the FBI was enlisted to conduct background checks on witnesses who were scheduled to testify against Rehnquist's nomination to become chief justice.

While many files of prominent individuals are made available on the FBI website, the Rehnquist file is not currently available on-line. As with most other records, it must be requested from the FBI through filing an FOIA request.