Monday, May 2, 2011

Operation Eagle Eye (Mary Bethune Elementary School)

Mary Bethune Elementary School (photo by Neil Lokare)
William H. Rehnquist was a Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Rehnquist died in 2005 and was replaced by current Chief Justice John Roberts (photo credit pending).

1310 South 15th Ave, Phoenix, AZ
            During the 1964 Presidential Election, at Mary Bethune Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona, a young lawyer named William Rehnquist led Operation Eagle Eye; a questionable and illegal voter suppression operation of the Republican Party. Rehnquist aggressively interrogated potential minority voters with questions about their residence and how long they had lived there. Rehnquist even proceeded to ask voters to interpret specific passages in the Constitution, and if they were unable to do so, were denied access to the polls. This measure taken by the G.O.P (Republican Party) alienated some of its own members who felt uncomfortable with some of the strategies led by Rehnquist and his Operation Eagle Eye cronies. (Roddy, “Just Our Bill”).
Charlie Stevens was the president of the local Young Republicans who remembered receiving phone calls from party leadership inquiring into his decision to refrain from the operation. In a December 2nd, 2000 article, “Just Our Bill” in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, columnist Dennis Roddy interviewed Mr. Stevens. Stevens said, “I didn't think it was proper to challenge my dad or my mother to interpret the Constitution...Even people who are born here have trouble interpreting the Constitution. Lawyers have trouble interpreting it” (Roddy, Just Our Bill). Stevens' parents were Greek immigrants from Turkey. As Jack E. White argues in his essay, Right Back At You, Operation Eagle Eye was another clear “reminder of the G.O.P.'s alliances with anti-black forces.” (White, Right Back At You). Rehnquist clearly sought to disenfranchise them from the political system, substantiating his belief in white privilege, especially with regards to political rights. Operation Eagle Eye operatives intended to dismiss black voters as legitimate constituent-citizens.
Rehnquist's tactics irked local poll watchers who vividly remembered such strategies in play during the last major election before 1964. According to Roddy, Lito Pena had to find some local muscle to physically escort Rehnquist and his team from the voting location. Pena eventually served in the Arizona State Legislature for 30 years. In 1971, William Rehnquist was nominated to the Supreme Court as Chief Justice. His presided over one of the most famous cases, Gore v. Bush, which sought to address voting discrepancies during the 2000 Presidential Election. In Gore v. Bush, Rehnquist concluded that Florida did not have to recount ballots that it perceived were illegally or improperly cast – many of which were in favor of Al Gore. Many other conservative judges failed to join the opinion, disagreeing with the substance of the decision. The Supreme Court's deference to Florida in the matter resulted in George W. Bush receiving the necessary electoral votes for President, while losing the national popular vote to Gore. (Lynch, Noise and Politics). As Martin Perez wrote, Rehnquist prevented the exercise of suffrage, “ the thuggish boss of an insidious project called 'Operation Eagle Eye.' Now he does it in a long black robe from behind the great bench” (Peretz, All Too Human). Former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died in 2005.
- Neil Lokare, Jerilyn Forsythe, and Brandon Crockett


Peretz, Martin. 2001. All Too Human. The New Republic.
Roddy, Dennis. 2000. Just Our Bill. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Schepers, Emile. 2008. Indiana's Threat To Voting Rights. People's World. 8.
Shapiro, Bruce. 2005. William Rehnquist. The Nation. 30.
White, Jack E. 1999. Right Back At You. Time International. 153: 21.
Lynch, Michael. 2001. Noise and Politics. Social Studies of Science, 31: 446-454.

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