Remarks at the Swearing-in Ceremony for William H. Rehnquist as Chief Justice and Antonin Scalia as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
The President. Members of the Court and ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the White House, and thank you for coming to witness this historic occasion. This ceremony is the culmination of our constitutional process which involves each of the three branches of government. I've had the honor of nominating Justice Rehnquist to be the next Chief Justice of the United States and Judge Scalia to be the Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The Senate has confirmed my nominations, and I now ask that Chief Justice Warren Burger administer the constitutional oath of office to Justice Rehnquist and Judge Scalia.
Mr. Chief Justice.
Chief Justice Burger. Thank you, Mr. President.
Justice Rehnquist, before I ask you to take the oath, I would like to make this observation with your lead, Mr. President, that we will have today the 16th Chief Justice of the United States in almost 200 years, and Judge Scalia will be the 103d Justice of the Court. For me it is not only an honor but a personal privilege to take part in the ceremony involving Justice Rehnquist, who has been a colleague and a friend, a warm friend for 15 years, and Judge Scalia, with whom I have worked on extrajudicial activities relating to the administration of justice. And now, without more, I ask Justice Rehnquist, are you prepared to take the oath?
Justice Rehnquist. I am, Chief Justice.
Chief Justice Burger. If you will place your left hand on the Bible and raise your right hand and repeat after me:
I, William H. Rehnquist, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter, so help me God.
Justice Rehnquist. I, William H. Rehnquist, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter, so help me God.
Chief Justice Burger. My congratulations.
Chief Justice Rehnquist. Thank you. Mr. President, I know that I speak for all of my colleagues, and for all of my family, when I thank you for inviting us to these proceedings at the White House, signifying the transition in the Supreme Court. Today Chief Justice Burger retires, after 17 years of distinguished service. I receive your appointment to be Chief Justice. And Judge Scalia, by virtue of your appointment, becomes Justice Scalia. The process established by the Constitution is thus fulfilled.
At the conclusion of the second part of these proceedings in our Court this afternoon, I will become the 16th Chief Justice of the United States. Forty-five years ago, when Harlan Stone succeeded Charles Evans Hughes in that position, he wrote to his predecessor that he now realized he must bear some burdens which John Marshall did not know. So, I'm sure, it will be with me. Mr. President, I am grateful beyond measure to you for affording me the opportunity to serve the Court and to serve my country as Chief Justice of the United States. And I pray that God will grant me the patience, the wisdom, and the fortitude to worthily follow in the footsteps of my illustrious predecessors in discharging the responsibilities of this high office.
Chief Justice Burger. Judge Scalia, are you prepared to take the oath of office?
Judge Scalia. I am, Chief Justice.
Chief Justice Burger. Would you approach, and if Mrs. Scalia will hold the Bible, place your left hand on the Bible, raising your right hand, and repeat after me:
I, Antonin Scalia, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter, so help me God.
Judge Scalia. I, Antonin Scalia, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter, so help me God.
Chief Justice Burger. My congratulations to you.
Justice Scalia. Thank you. This is an occasion for thank you's. It's very easy to know where to begin; it's very-hard to know where to end. I'd begin, of course, with President Reagan, who has chosen to think me worthy of this appointment for which I'm very grateful and will do my best to live up to his confidence. I have to thank my wife, Maureen, who's an extraordinary woman and without whom I wouldn't be here or if I were here, it wouldn't have been as much fun along the way. [Laughter] And I have to thank a lot of other people, going way back to teachers in Public School 13 in Queens, Xavier High School in Manhattan, up to my colleagues on the Court on which I presently serve who are here today.
In the course of my last tour of duty on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, I have come to know in one way or another all of the current Justices on the Supreme Court, I have an enormous respect for that institution, and I have an enormous personal regard for each of them. I look forward to working with them in our common enterprise for many years to come. Thank you all very much.
The President. Mr. Chief Justice Burger, Mr. Chief Justice Rehnquist, members of the Court, and ladies and gentlemen: Today we mark one of those moments of passage and renewal that has kept our Republic alive and strong—as Lincoln called it, the last, best hope of man on Earth—for all the years since its founding. One Chief Justice of our Supreme Court has stepped down, and together with a new Associate Justice, another has taken his place. As the Constitution requires, they've been nominated by the President, confirmed by the Senate, and they've taken the oath of office that is required by the Constitution itself—the oath "to support and defend the Constitution of the United States . . . so help me God."
In marking this moment of transition, let me first say, on behalf of all Americans, how grateful we are to Chief Justice Burger. For 17 years on the Supreme Court, and for 13 years before that on the DC Circuit, the Chief Justice's service to the Nation has been a monument of integrity and of dedication to principle—and especially to the judiciary itself. But, Mr. Chief Justice, we know your service isn't ending today. How appropriate it is that you will be guiding the bicentennial celebration of that Constitution that you have served with such distinction over the years. And what a lasting contribution this will be. Because of your work, Americans in all walks of life will come to have an even more profound knowledge of the rule of law and the sacred document upon which it rests. Your service as Chief Justice has been outstanding, and it's a mark of your generosity that you've agreed to offer yourself for additional service to your country and the law.
Our new Chief Justice is one of America's most brilliant jurists. From his days in law school, where he graduated first in his class, he has been recognized for his extraordinary legal insight. On the Court, he has distinguished himself through the brilliance of his reason and the clarity and the craftsmanship of his opinions. I nominated William Rehnquist because I believe he will be a Chief Justice of historic stature. Associate Justice Antonin Scalia is also a brilliant judge. He had a distinguished career as a lawyer and as a professor of law before joining the Court of Appeals nearly 4 years ago. There he became known for his integrity and independence and for the force of his intellect. Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Scalia, congratulations to both of you.
With these two outstanding men taking their new positions, this is, as I said, a time of renewal in the great constitutional system that our forefathers gave us—a good time to reflect on the inspired wisdom we call our Constitution, a time to remember that the Founding Fathers gave careful thought to the role of the Supreme Court. In a small room in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, they debated whether the Justices should have life terms or not, whether they should be part of one or the other branches or not, and whether they should have the right to declare acts of the other branches of government unconstitutional or not.
They settled on a judiciary that would be independent and strong, but one whose power would also, they believed, be confined within the boundaries of a written Constitution and laws. In the convention and during the debates on ratification, some said that there was a danger of the courts making laws rather than interpreting them. The framers of our Constitution believed, however, that the judiciary they envisioned would be "the least dangerous" branch of the Government, because, as Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers, it had "neither force nor will, but merely judgment." The judicial branch interprets the laws, while the power to make and execute those laws is balanced in the two elected branches. And this was one thing that Americans of all persuasions supported.
Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, for example, disagreed on most of the great issues of their day, just as many have disagreed in ours. They helped begin our long tradition of loyal opposition, of standing on opposite sides of almost every question while still working together for the good of the country. And yet for all their differences, they both agreed—as should be—on the importance of judicial restraint. "Our peculiar security," Jefferson warned, "is in the possession of a written Constitution." And he made this appeal: "Let us not make it a blank paper by construction." Hamilton, Jefferson, and all the Founding Fathers recognized that the Constitution is the supreme and ultimate expression of the will of the American people. They saw that no one in office could remain above it, if freedom were to survive through the ages. They understood that, in the words of James Madison, if "the sense in which the Constitution was accepted and ratified by the nation is not the guide to expounding it, there can be no security for a faithful exercise of its powers."
The Founding Fathers were clear on this issue. For them, the question involved in judicial restraint was not—as it is not—will we have liberal or conservative courts? They knew that the courts, like the Constitution itself, must not be liberal or conservative. The question was and is, will we have government by the people? And this is why the principle of judicial restraint has had an honored place in our tradition. Progressive, as well as conservative, judges have insisted on its importance—Justice Holmes, for example, and Justice Felix Frankfurter, who once said, "The highest exercise of judicial duty is to subordinate one's personal pulls and one's private views to the law."
Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Scalia have demonstrated in their opinions that they stand with Holmes and Frankfurter on this question. I nominated them with this principle very much in mind. And Chief Justice Burger, in his opinions, was also a champion of restraint. All three men understand that the Founding Fathers designed a system of checks and balances, and of limited government, because they knew that the great preserver of our freedoms would never be the courts or either of the other branches alone. It would always be the totality of our constitutional system, with no one part getting the upper hand. And that's why the judiciary must be independent. And that is why it must exercise restraint.
So, our protection is in the constitutional system, and one other place as well. Lincoln asked, "What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty?" And he answered, "It is in the love of liberty which God has planted in us." Yes, we the people are the ultimate defenders of freedom. We the people created the Government and gave it its powers. And our love of liberty and our spiritual strength, our dedication to the Constitution, are what, in the end, preserves our great nation and this great hope for all mankind. All of us, as Americans, are joined in a great common enterprise to write the story of freedom—the greatest adventure mankind has ever known and one we must pass on to our children and their children, remembering that freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.
The warning, more than a century ago, attributed to Daniel Webster, remains as timeless as the document he revered. "Miracles do not cluster," he said, "Hold on to the Constitution of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands—what has happened once in 6,000 years may never happen again. Hold on to your Constitution, for if the American Constitution shall fall there will be anarchy throughout the world." Holding on to the Constitution—this has been the service of Chief Justice Burger, and a grateful Nation honors him today. So, too, I can think of no two better public servants to continue that work than Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Scalia. You both have our nation's heartfelt wishes for success and happiness.
Thank you all for joining in this important ceremony. I know that, in a few moments, our new Chief Justice and Associate Justice look forward to greeting each of you in the cross hall. Thank you again.
Note: The President spoke at 11:02 a.m. in the East Room at the White House.
Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Swearing-in Ceremony for William H. Rehnquist as Chief Justice and Antonin Scalia as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/254978