The Nation: Nixon's Court: Its Making and Its Meaning

  • Share
  • Read Later

(4 of 9)

When the list became public knowledge two weeks ago, lawyers, newspapers and magazines across the nation set up an incredulous outcry. Thirty-four Harvard Law School faculty members signed a petition protesting the nominees. Even conservative Republican Senators who had battled for Carswell were privately contemptuous. As the uproar continued, it became clear that even most of the White House staff regarded the choices as a disaster. John Mitchell held a background briefing for reporters in his office. Actually, he said, 15 names were under consideration. But that was a smokescreen. The fact was that Nixon meant to nominate Herschel Friday and Mildred Lillie.

Then came the most damaging criticism. The A.B.A.'s judiciary committee, a broadly varied group of twelve lawyers from across the nation, completed its investigations of Friday and Lillie. By its rules, eight of the twelve must approve in order that a nominee be deemed qualified. The committee split 6-6 on Friday. On Judge Lillie, the vote was 11-1 against. The White House mood was one of barely controlled fury. Nixon's congressional-liaison team advised the President that he would face another ruinous battle in the Senate if he stuck with Friday and Mrs. Lillie. For Nixon, who told aides that his court appointments would determine his place in history, it had the lineaments of one of his Six Crises.

Even before the A.B.A. committee's report, the extraordinary criticisms aroused prompted Mitchell and Nixon to begin thinking of alternatives. Last Tuesday, Mitchell called Powell and told him that the President wanted him for the court. Then, at 8 p.m., Nixon called and repeated the offer, saying that while he knew Powell had reservations because of his age, it was in the nation's interest that he should accept. Powell replied he wanted to think about it overnight. He did so, and late Wednesday he accepted the appointment in a call to Mitchell.

Nixon and Mitchell conferred by telephone on the situation until midnight Wednesday. Although they were more or less certain of Powell, there obviously remained some question about the final ticket that the President would present. Some time between midnight and 8 a.m., Nixon tape-recorded a draft of the TV speech he was to deliver. He gave the tape to his valet, Manolo Sanchez, who took it to Nixon's secretary, Rose Mary Woods. She typed one copy and returned it to Nixon. The President spent much of Thursday alone in his sanctum in the Executive Office Building next door to the White House, working on the single existing copy of his speech, which he edited and polished until just before his broadcast at 7:30 p.m.

Savored Suspense

An extraordinary secrecy prevailed. Nixon was angered by the disclosure of his list of six. White House advisers did not learn of the new choices until just before the broadcast. Nor did Herschel Friday and Judge Lillie, who got the word just an hour before the President went on television. Rumors caromed through the White House. The President himself, rather theatrically, said later: "I didn't know until the last minute which way I would go." At 7:21, the Associated Press sent out a bulletin that Nixon was about to appoint Rehnquist and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Arlin Adams of Philadelphia. A few moments later, Nixon went on the air.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9