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Stanford Law Review Publishes 1948 Master’s Thesis of William H. Rehnquist

Publication Date: 
June 05, 2006
Stanford Law School

STANFORD, Calif.—In tribute to the late William H. Rehnquist (BA/MA ’48, JD ’52), the Stanford Law Review has just published his 1948 master's thesis, entitled “Contemporary Theories of Rights.” Rehnquist, who served 33 years on the Supreme Court of the United States, including 19 years as Chief Justice, submitted his master’s thesis to Stanford University’s Department of Political Science in August 1948. Until now, the only two copies of Rehnquist’s thesis were held in unpublished form in the Stanford University Archives.

The Law Review decided to publish the late Chief Justice’s thesis, with permission from the University and the Rehnquist Family, as part of a special tribute issue on Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. This issue includes tributes written by their former clerks, as well as articles by leading constitutional scholars and federal judges on the legacy of the Rehnquist Court.

“It is a great honor for us to publish the late Chief Justice Rehnquist’s previously unpublished master’s thesis in our special symposium issue on the legacy of the Rehnquist Court,” said Chris Walker, Managing Editor of Volume 58 of the Stanford Law Review. “Not only is this an excellent way for the Stanford Law Review to honor one of its most esteemed alumni, but it makes this previously unpublished work available to scholars nationwide as they attempt to better understand the early roots of the late Chief’s jurisprudence and his influence on the Court.”

In the thesis, Rehnquist surveyed existing theories of individual rights and concluded that moral rights must be derived from the fundamental right to be free from coercion. Therefore, for Rehnquist, moral rights consist of negative liberties (i.e., freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and a right to due process); positive liberties are not inherent in human nature, but can be adopted into society through the legislative process.

“One sees in Chief Justice Rehnquist's youthful scholarship the seeds of his later jurisprudence and the source of his core commitments as a lawyer and a judge,” comments Larry Kramer, Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean.

The Stanford Law Review is an academic journal operated entirely by Stanford Law School students and dedicated to publishing legal scholarship. Currently in its fifty-eighth year, the Law Review counts such legal luminaries as Warren Christopher, Sandra Day O’Connor, and William H. Rehnquist among its former members. To view Rehnquist’s thesis in Volume 58 (Issue 6) of the Stanford Law Review online, please visit