Wednesday, November 17, 1971 - 11:06am - 12:30pm
Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, John Mitchell
Oval Office

The President met with Governor Ronald W. Reagan, R-California. Members of the press were present at the start of the meeting and after they left, Attorney General John N. Mitchell and Deputy National Security Adviser Alexander M. Haig, Jr. entered.

After Reagan reported on his recent trip to Asia, Mitchell mentioned Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, D-Montana, and Nixon's Supreme Court nominees.

President Nixon: Well, I put it right to him. I told him--that is to digress a minute--I said that, "Look, we had that 4-3 decision on Amchitka [unclear], you know. For chrissakes, most of the Court had turned around and said we couldn't fire a blast." As you know, we had enormous mail on that, about 11-1 against us. But I don't pay attention to it. Anyway, we got 25,000 letters against it and 35 for it, 35--not thousand--35, period.

Ronald Reagan: But that was an organized thing [unclear].

President Nixon: Oh, well, anyway--

Reagan: The Sierra Club.

President Nixon: The environmentalists--anyway, what has happened here is just nuts. The Supreme Court of the United States comes down 4-3 on that issue. Now, I would have had to exceeded the Constit[ution]--there would have a hell of a difficult problem if they'd have ruled the other way. That day, I would, in the public mind, have had to follow it. Although on national security grounds I would overrule them. But could you imagine the storm that would have arisen all over this country? The President overruled the Supreme Court of the United States, which I was prepared to do. I ordered the test, you know, John--

Mitchell: Yes, sir.

President Nixon: --that morning, I told [Henry] Kissinger, I said that you told me it was going to be a close decision. I said, "I don't give a damn." I said, "The test goes forward." We were prepared. But I--you heard what I said at dinner about that. I said, "Oh, Amchitka, [unclear] well, we had to do it."

Reagan: Yes.

President Nixon: But here's--the problem we've got here is that--again, I digress--with the Court, with [Justices William H.] Rehnquist and [Lewis F.] Powell on there, instead of being 4-3, that decision would have been 6-3.

The conversation continues with discussion of makeup of Supreme Court.

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