With the Chief Justice's death last September, the book was closed on the Rehnquist Court. Politically and jurisprudentially, however, the book had slammed shut long before. In 1986, when William H. Rehnquist was confirmed as chief justice (and Antonin Scalia succeeded to the associate justiceship Rehnquist had vacated), American conservatives, then politically resurgent, had great expectations that the Supreme Court's excesses of the past several decades would be reversed or at least substantially moderated. But though Rehnquist would preside over the Court for almost two decades, the window of opportunity for fundamental change in American constitutional law closed within six years of his confirmation.

In fact, the end of the Rehnquist Court's high promise may be precisely dated—June 29, 1992. On that day the long-awaited decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey was handed down, explicitly reaffirming the core holding of Roe v. Wade: that inherent in the word "liberty" in the 14th Amendment's due process clause was a constitutional right for women to terminate their pregnancies by abortion. With this decision, the conservative constitutional insurgency mounted in the 1980s ended in a virtual rout.

The final blow of the abortion

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