Friday, October 22, 1971
Richard Nixon, Alexander Butterfield, Linwood Holton
White House Telephone

After two failed Supreme Court nominations, President Nixon had just nominated Richmond lawyer Lewis F. Powell to fill the vacant "Southern seat" on the Supreme Court. The Senate was also considering the nomination of William Rehnquist.

The operator and Alexander Butterfield coordinate to connect the call. Muffled background conversations can be heard but not made out.

Linwood Holton: Fine, [unclear]. How are you?

Alexander Butterfield: He’ll be here in about one minute.

Operator: Thank you.

Holton: Thank you. How are you?

Butterfield: Governor, how are you? Alex Butterfield.

Holton: Hey, Alex, how are you doing?

Butterfield: Pretty good, thanks.

Holton: Good.

Butterfield: Here’s the President, now.

Holton: Thank you.

President Nixon: Hello?

Holton: Hi, Mr. President.

President Nixon: Well, I just wanted to call you before your press conference to tell you that I think you’re pretty fortunate, and that we are too, to have two Virginians. I understand [William] Rehnquist lives in Virginia too.

Holton: Yeah, that makes three, because the Chief Justice [Warren E. Burger] is out there.

President Nixon: Oh, yeah.

Holton: My Virginian—

President Nixon: Well—

Holton: —Supreme Court now.

President Nixon: Well, it’s—it is. And I will appreciate, you, of course, being a lawyer, and of course with the unfortunate situation in [Richard H.] Poff--1

Holton: Yeah.

President Nixon: --if you would make a very strong statement, and if you would indicate to the press that I’ve called you, and—I just signed the—

Holton: Well, good, Mr. President.

President Nixon: —I just signed the nominations this moment, as a matter of fact.

Holton: Well, that’s just tremendous, [unclear].

President Nixon: And—

Holton: You’ve really hit the ten strike. This guy is—

President Nixon: You feel pretty good, do you?

Holton: Oh, I feel outstanding, Mr. President. I’m thrilled with it.

President Nixon: You don’t know—do you know Rehnquist?

Holton: I do not know Rehnquist.

President Nixon: He is just—frankly, he’ll probably turn out to be the best man on the Court. This—

Holton: Uh-huh.

President Nixon: —may sound [unclear], but he is a real legal genius—

Holton: Right.

President Nixon: —and tough, strong mind. And, you know, first—

Holton: Well, that’s just great.

President Nixon: He's just going to--so we’ve got two finds, and of course, [Lewis F.] Powell [Jr.] is one of the great gentlemen.

Holton: Powell is one of the great lawyers of [unclear].

President Nixon: He was your supporter too, wasn’t he?

Holton: Well, he couldn’t do that. He supported you, and he supported—

President Nixon: Oh.

Holton: —President [Dwight D.] Eisenhower.

President Nixon: But you didn’t need it? [laughs]

Holton: No, that’s right. You supported me so I was all right.

President Nixon: That’s right. That’s right.

Holton: But he did not, in any way, do anything against me.

President Nixon: Hmm.

Holton: He just [unclear].

President Nixon: Well, it’s a great—he’s a great fellow, and somebody asked me last night, “Well, how about his age?” I said, “Look, 10 years of Powell is worth 30 years of somebody else.2

Holton: Well, that’s right, Mr. President. And what—this fellow is a very fine, warm friend of mine. He and his wife have played [unclear]—

President Nixon: Good.

Holton: —with Jinks [Holton] and me.3

President Nixon: Hmm.

Holton: And he—I want him—I want you to know what he told me when I talked to him this morning, and that was—he says, “Well, you tell the President when you talk to him that he was a damn fine lawyer, because I was determined in my conversations with [John] Mitchell that it was not appropriate."

President Nixon: Yeah.

Holton: "That the President talked me into doing it."

President Nixon: [Laughing] I really worked on him.

Holton: [Laughs.]

President Nixon: Yeah, that’s right. He didn’t want it.

Holton: You and I had—

President Nixon: Yeah.

Holton: —talked about him.

President Nixon: I know. I know. I know.

Holton: So this is as clear of a case of an office seeking out a man—

President Nixon: Yeah, that’s right.

Holton: —[unclear] a man as I’ve ever seen.

President Nixon: You can point out, incidentally, that you—that I—that in our conversation that I recalled the fact that you had first mentioned his name to me, and that I—and also get in the fact of the bipartisan thing. That he is a Democrat. That this shows that the President was seeking the best man regardless of party. Would you do that?

Holton: I will do all of that.

President Nixon: Great.

Holton: And let me tell you that I had a very interesting telephone call this morning. The president of the State NAACP called me4

President Nixon: Mmm-hmm.

Holton: —to congratulate me for getting Lewis Powell on that court.

President Nixon: [Laughs.]

Holton: I didn’t have a damn thing to do with it—

President Nixon: Good.

Holton: —but it does indicate the broad, the breadth of the support that this would get, I believe.

President Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Holton: He’s just top.

President Nixon: Right. Well, good.

Holton: I congratulate you—

President Nixon: Good.

Holton: I had to laugh when I saw the press speculating that you would go to mediocrity. I knew that wouldn’t happen [unclear].

President Nixon: Oh, well. We had to get them out. You know, we had to get them off on their blind trail so we could get in the men we want. [laughing]

Holton: Well, you’ve done a great job. I think—

President Nixon: OK.

Holton: —there is one—the whole thing, the economic program and everything you’ve been doing is--I’m so thrilled with it. And the—

President Nixon: Well.

Holton: —you may remember I told you in Williamsburg I felt—

President Nixon: Mmm-hmm.

Holton: —we were on the imminence of some very, very fine successes, and I think you’ve been doing a terrific job.

President Nixon: Well—

Holton: Let me know if I can help.

President Nixon: I appreciate it very much. I’m just meeting now with [Nobusuke] Kishi, the former Prime Minister of Japan. We’re trying to get that back on the track, but it’s coming along.

Holton: Well—

President Nixon: Remember, we had to pay a price to get the textile agreement.

Holton: That’s a tough—

President Nixon: That helps in your state too, doesn’t it, the textile agreement?

Holton: Yeah, we have a couple of textiles that are in problems.

President Nixon: Well, they’ll—

Holton: You’ve also got your Pakistan thing. That must—

President Nixon: Well, that’s terrible. That’s just—I just had a long meeting with [Peter] Frelinghuysen this morning, but there is nothing we can do there. They just hate each other.

Holton: Yeah.

President Nixon: We’re doing the best we can.

Holton: You—the Middle East is shaping up though isn’t it?

President Nixon: Fairly well, yeah. Well, it’s on ice. Let’s put it that way.

Holton: Well, that's a hell of a lot better than it was when you went—

President Nixon: But the fact that the Soviets and us are getting together, that keeps it on ice for a few more months. See, that’s—

Holton: The way you’ve got Peking and Moscow balanced off is terrific.

President Nixon: And you see, the Soviets and us getting together also restrains the Indians against the Paks—

Holton: Mmm-hmm.

President Nixon: —and, the Chinese restrain the [unclear]. So, it’s all a balancing act. We just hope it doesn’t come down.

Holton: Right. Listen, one thing. I had lined up with Dwight [L. Chapin] and John [D. Ehrlichman] and [H.R.] Bob Haldeman at one time—

President Nixon: Uh-huh.

Holton: —a little opportunity to come up and discuss some of this school situation with you.

President Nixon: Mmm-hmm.

Holton: I didn’t want to push that while the Supreme Court was under consideration.

President Nixon: Mmm-hmm.

Holton: So I’d like to give that one a try. 

President Nixon: Sure. Why don’t you— 

Holton: I think I can be helpful to you.

President Nixon: Fine. Why don’t you give a call to—you know, you work it out, and I’ll be glad to see you anytime. You’re close you know, and you can work into the schedule. Just talk to—why don’t you—as a matter of fact, why don’t you just talk to Ehrlichman or Haldeman, either one.

Holton: OK.

President Nixon: Fine.

Holton: Many thanks.

President Nixon: Or Dwight. Anyone of them. No, Dwight’s in China. Just—

Holton: Oh, Dwight’s gone now.

President Nixon: Ehrlichman or Haldeman, either one, they can make schedules.

Holton: I’ll do it, and—

President Nixon: Well—

Holton: —again, I just—the finest kind of congratulations on—

President Nixon: Well—

Holton: —an outstanding pair of appointees.

President Nixon: Well, he’s a great Virginian. OK. [laughs]

Holton: Virginian, and keep on put—make that Supreme Court a Virginia Supreme Court. That’ll help you.

President Nixon: I’ve been saying that all the time.

Holton: [Laughs.]

President Nixon: All right.

Holton: OK.

President Nixon: Bye.

Holton: Bye.

  • 1. President Nixon had nominated Representative Richard H. Poff of Virginia to fill the vacant "Southern seat" on the Supreme Court. Facing the prospect of a difficult Senate confirmation amid attacks by labor, feminist, and civil rights groups, on 2 October Poff had asked Nixon to withdraw his name from consideration. "Acts to Avoid Long Battle in Senate on Confirmation," New York Times, 3 October 1971.
  • 2. Powell was 64 years old.
  • 3. Jinks Holton was the Governor's wife and the First Lady of Virginia.
  • 4. The acronym NAACP stands for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Original tape courtesy of the Nixon Library. This transcript is a working draft. Please let us know if you find important errors.