Supreme Court

Thurgood Marshall & LBJ: From the Johnson Tapes

Thurgood Marshall and LBJ in the Oval OfficeWith such an impressive and distinguished record, Thurgood Marshall became an ideal candidate to help with LBJ's efforts to break down racial barriers to promotion to top government positions. Johnson appointed Marshall as Solicitor General in 1965 and made it clear then that after Marshall built up more experience in that office that he hoped to be able to appoint him to the Supreme Court before the end of his presidency. But before he did so, he wanted to be sure that there could be no criticism whatsoever that Marshall did not have the necessary experience. As he told Roy Wilkins, the Executive Director of the NAACP, "I want to build him up where he's impenetrable when he becomes a Supreme Court justice."

Nixon's Final Advice to Rehnquist

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Richard Nixon, William Rehnquist                  
Introduction:

Rehnquist was nominated by President Richard Nixon in late 1971 and sworn in January 7, 1972. Rehnquist had served in the Nixon administration as Assistant Attorney General from 1969 to 1971. The 47-year-old had a reputation for being an outspoken conservative, a reputation he lived up to while on the court. He rose to Chief Justice in 1986, nominated by President Reagan.

William Rehnquist's nomination to the Supreme Court in 1971 ran into trouble with the publication of a memo he had written nearly two decades earlier as a law clerk to Justice Robert Jackson. The memo, titled "Random Thought on the Segregation Case" and bearing Rehnquist's initials, urged the high court to uphold Plessy v. Freguson, notorious for the "separate but equal" doctrine that upheld racial segregation. "I know it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position, for which I have been excoriated by 'liberal' colleagues, but I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed," the memo stated. "Regardless of the Justice’s individual views of the merits of segregation, it quite clearly is not one of those extreme cases which commands intervention from anyone of any conviction."

The memo emerged on Dec. 5, 1971, just days before the Senate was to vote on the Rehnquist nomination. Rehnquist wrote to one of his Senate backers that the memo was composed at the request of Justice Jackson and was intended as a rough draft statement of Jackson's views, not his own. There was some thought of putting off the Senate vote until the next session of Congress, but in this Dec. 10, 1971, conversation with his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon threatened to retaliate by convening a special session of Congress that would force senators to work through the holidays.

The Senate voted to confirm Rehnquist's nomination later that afternoon by a vote of 68-26. Upon hearing of the confirmation, Nixon telephoned Rehnquist from the Oval Office to congratulate him and offer some final advice.

LBJ's Nomination of Abe Fortas to the Supreme Court, July 1965

In mid-July, 1965, Associate Justice Arthur Goldberg stepped down from the Supreme Court to take over as UN Ambassador. President Johnson wanted Abe Fortas, his longtime attorney and confidant, to be the replacement. Fortas demurred, but Johnson was not deterred. While he considered several other candidates, including a number of Republicans, Johnson did not stop pressuring Fortas and eventually got his man.

Nixon and the Supreme Court: The Appointment of William H. Rehnquist

Rehnquist was nominated by President Richard Nixon in late 1971 and sworn in January 7, 1972. The 47-year-old had a reputation for being an outspoken conservative, a reputation he lived up to while on the court. He rose to Chief Justice in 1986, nominated by President Reagan. Rehnquist had served in the Nixon administration as Assistant Attorney General from 1969 to 1971.

Syndicate content