WASHINGTON – Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist (search) is only four years away from becoming the Supreme Court justice who served longest on the high court, but the 79-year-old jurist said he has "no ambition" to hold that record.
Rehnquist is frequently mentioned as a likely candidate to retire from the Supreme Court (search), but he is always cagy on the subject. In the past, Rehnquist has said he has no immediate plans to retire but has acknowledged that, at his age, it is natural to think about it.
"If you just hang around another four years, you'll be the longest-serving ever in the court's history," C-SPAN (search) Chairman Brian Lamb told Rehnquist during an interview to be broadcast Saturday.
"Well, I have no ambition to be that," Rehnquist replied.
Rehnquist joined the court in 1972, and passed his 32rd anniversary as a justice in January. Only seven justices have served longer, out of 108 since the country's founding.
Rehnquist served for a time alongside Justice William O. Douglas, who was the longest-serving justice in history when he retired after 36 years in 1975.
Lamb interviewed Rehnquist about the recent publication of Rehnquist's latest historical book, which centers on the disputed presidential election of 1876. The one-hour session will be broadcast on C-SPAN2's Book TV at 11 p.m. EDT.
Most historians and law professors who keep tabs on the court say it is unlikely any of the nine justices would choose to leave this year. It is historically difficult to get a new justice confirmed by the Senate in a presidential election year.
Nominees for lower federal judgeships have bogged down in partisan tit-for-tat in recent years, and the fighting is expected to be much more fierce whenever the next Supreme Court vacancy occurs. No one has died or retired for nearly a decade.
"I think certainly if the atmosphere prevailing today continues, ... getting confirmation of a Supreme Court justice might be very difficult," Rehnquist said in the interview.
He offered no suggestions to improve matters.
"That's between the president and the Senate."
Rehnquist suggested he will not write a memoir, nor provide the kind of candid oral history recently released by the family of the late Justice Harry A. Blackmun (search).
"I've always admired Robert E. Lee (search). He said the reason he didn't write memoirs was he would have to deal harshly with some people whom he liked very well and who had worked with him," Rehnquist said.
"And I feel the same way. You know, bland memoirs are really of no use to anyone, and they certainly don't sell. And critical memoirs, you know, where you really take off and go after some of the people who you've disliked or who have been on other sides - I just don't care to do that."