The Administration: All in the Family

  • Share
  • Read Later

Proud and excited, Ramsey Clark, 39, got on the phone to his father. President Johnson had just appointed him Attorney General of the U.S., and he wanted to pass on the news. "I'm working on something," his father replied, to Ramsey's disappointment. "Can I call you back in a few minutes?" What Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark, 67, was working on was every bit as big a story as his son's new job: his decision to resign from the seat he has occupied for 17 years.

The elder Clark stepped down to avoid any hint of impropriety, though no law or precedent obliged him to do so. Actually, most of the Justice Department cases that reach the high court are handled not by the Attorney General but by the Solicitor General.* But without ever formally discussing the matter with either Ramsey or the President, who is an old personal friend, Clark had long since made up his mind to quit the court if his son became Attorney General. "Mrs. Clark and I," he said in his statement, "are filled with both pride and joy over Ramsey's nomination."

Touch of Coyness. Tom Clark's paternal pride was all the deeper because he himself spent twelve years in the Justice Department — the last four as Attorney General — before Harry Truman appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1949. With his father at Justice, young Ramsey Clark got his first exposure to the department at the age of nine. The rangy (6 ft. 3 in., 180 Ibs.), easy-mannered Ramsey served a hitch in the Marine Corps at the end of World War II, then studied at the University of Texas and at Chicago. Diligent, if not brilliant, he earned three degrees in four years, in 1951 joined his father's old Dallas law firm, there lost only one jury case in ten years.

As Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Lands Division, Clark was an efficient administrator with a knack for economy: for three straight years, he ran the division for $300,000 less than its $3,500,000 budget. When Nicholas Katzenbach moved over to the State Department last October, Clark became Acting Attorney General. It had taken Johnson 148 days to publicly remove the "Acting" from Katzenbach's title in 1965—and Ramsey was kept waiting precisely the same number of days. The President broke the news with that touch of coyness that has become almost a trademark. Having dropped a hint that the appointment might be forthcoming, he summoned newsmen to the White House the following day to watch him sign a document; Ramsey was standing at his shoulder. When one reporter asked if the document on the desk might be Clark's nomination, Johnson flashed a Cheshire grin, replied: "Yes." That was it.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2