Technology with attitude

Rehnquist Was A Junky


I certainly don’t use the term “junky” lightly, but we’re talking about more than a decade long, hardcore addiction to incredibly strong painkillers. It certainly makes mild drug use by former and current Presidents (and any hopefuls) seemingly irrelevant.


The FBI’s 1986 report on Rehnquist’s drug dependence was not released at the time of his confirmation, though some Democratic senators wanted it made public. But it is in Rehnquist’s now-public file, and it contains new details about his behavior during his weeklong hospital stay in December 1981. One physician whose name is blocked out told the FBI that Rehnquist expressed “bizarre ideas and outrageous thoughts. He imagined, for example, that there was a CIA plot against him.”

The doctor said Rehnquist “had also gone to the lobby in his pajamas in order to try to escape.” The doctor said Rehnquist’s delirium was consistent with him suddenly stopping his apparent daily dose of 1400 milligrams of the drug — nearly three times higher than the 500-milligram maximum recommended by physicians. The doctor said, “Any physician who prescribed it was practicing very bad medicine, bordering on malpractice.”

And remember, Rehnquist was made an associate justice of the Supreme Court in 1971. When did he start taking this painkiller?

A July 26, 1986, memo sent by then-FBI Director William Webster to the Washington, D.C., field office advised agents that some physicians already interviewed indicated Rehnquist had been taking Placidyl since before 1972 — earlier than had been previously disclosed. Agents were told that if, during their investigation, they considered contacting Rehnquist himself, “concurrence must be obtained” first from headquarters. The FBI report ultimately concluded that Rehnquist was already taking Placidyl in 1970, when he was given a physical at a government facility. By the 1980s the drug had fallen out of favor because of its potency and side effects, and even in the 1970s it was recommended only for short-term use.

Though his name was blacked out, Dr. Freeman Cary, then the attending physician of the Capitol — whose services are also available to Supreme Court justices — told agents that he began prescribing Placidyl to Rehnquist in 1972 for insomnia and continued to do so until the 1981 episode. For six or seven months before Rehnquist’s hospitalization in 1981, Cary indicated, Rehnquist was re-filling three-month prescriptions for Placidyl every month — suggesting he was taking close to 1,500 milligrams daily instead of 500.

So I guess the question is how much did this drug shape his point of view? I mean, it had to. There’s no way you’re popping that many pills everyday and it doesn’t color your perception of the world around you.

Tragic stuff, but to me this points to one more reason to consider term limits for judges. They aren’t gods, so we shouldn’t treat them as such.