08 April 2017

“there are a lot of mediocre judges”

I am a southerner by ancestry, birth, training, inclination, belief and practice. I believe the segregation of the races is proper and the only practical and correct way of life in our states. I have always so believed, and I shall always so act. I shall be the last to submit to any attempt on the part of anyone to break down and to weaken this firmly established policy of our people.—G. Harrold Carswell
n 1968 the Democratic Party, seriously crippled by Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to seek reelection and by the assassination of frontrunner Robert Kennedy, essentially threw in the towel by choosing Vice-President Hubert Humphrey (“Second fiddle’s a hard part I know When they won’t even give you a bow”) to run against Richard Nixon redivivus. With the new (white) South ready to turn on the party that had betrayed it with what their politicians liked to refer to as the Civil Wrongs Act, Nixon was swept into office as a “law and order” candidate, with the southern states going either for him or for the segregationist George C. Wallace, a former Dixiecrat running on the American Independent ticket.
Once in office Nixon was determined to cement the new understanding between the racist ex-Democrats and the new Republican Party by stacking the Supreme Court (as best he could) with their kind of people—white southern racists. His first attempt was the nomination of Clement Haynsworth, a South Carolina judge who could be relied upon to rule in favor of segregation and against labor no matter the cost. The Senate, however, declined to rubber-stamp him, voting against him 55 to 45. (As an illustration of how party loyalties have changed since then, let me observe that 19 Democrats crossed party lines to vote for Haynsworth, while 17 Republicans crossed party lines to vote against him.)
Nixon’s next nomination was bizarre: G. Harrold Carswell from Georgia. A thoroughly mediocre jurist (one Senator defended him by saying that mediocre people deserved to have representation on the court too), his anti-equality stance was well-known. Unfortunately, he had not kept quiet about it; in a 1948 speech he had openly acknowledged his racist views. In an address to the American Legion he had espoused his “firm, vigorous belief in the principles of white supremacy, and I shall always be so governed.” Taking him at his word, on 8 April 1970 the Senate rejected him 51 to 45, a closer vote than the one on Haynsworth, though between these two sorry excuses for human beings Haynsworth was clearly the better choice. 
Nixon blamed the whole sorry spectacle on the Senate, saying that in the present environment it was impossible to get a southerner appointed to the Supreme Court—which was probably true enough, assuming that you keep in mind the unspoken requirements that he be white and racist. Had he been willing to venture out a bit further, maybe he could have found somebody suitable who hadn’t made white supremacist speeches, or proclaimed his eternal devotion to segregation. Whether the appointment of (say) an African-American civil rights leader from the south would have served his political ends, is another question altogether.

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