Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist’s death and Associate Justice
Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement concluded one of the most momentous
periods in modern Supreme Court history. Justice O’Connor, the first
woman appointed to the highest court, was often the “swing” vote
in closely divided cases. Justice Rehnquist was the first chief justice to
die in office since Fred M. Vinson died in 1953, and this is the first time
in more than 30 years that there has been only 7 justices. The Rehnquist Court,
with its membership remaining intact from 1994 until 2005, was the most stable
Court in history. This period was also one of political polarization, largely
due to the Court’s perceived influence on the 2000 presidential election
in Bush v Gore.1 The
Court decided socially divisive issues ranging from same-sex sodomy, affirmative
action, and detention of enemy combatants, to campaign financing and separation
of church and state. This article examines the Rehnquist Court’s influence
on medicine and health from 1986 to 2005, reflecting on its wider societal
impact in 4 areas: reproductive rights, medical privacy, discrimination, and
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