restricted access Chapter 13. Defending the Great Warren Court Decisions
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CHAPTER 13 Defending the Great Warren Court Decisions I arrived in the US Senate on the national tidal wave that swept Democrats to extraordinary power in 1964, just one short but agonizing year after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. President Lyndon Johnson won a full four-year term by a landslide over Republican Barry Goldwater, and Democrats captured greater than 2-to-1 majorities in both houses of the Eighty-Ninth Congress. Many of us in that incoming class were young, impatient, liberal reformers who had modeled ourselves after JFK. In just my first two years, Congress enacted one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in US history: the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It also enacted laws that created Medicare and Medicaid, expanded federal support for higher education, and reformed immigration law. It put in place new air pollution control standards, measures to preserve historic places, and national support for the arts and humanities. It also passed the Freedom of Information Act, which in the decades since has made government more transparent to the public . The Eighty-Ninth Congress has been called—justifiably, I believe— “arguably the most productive in American history.”1 In those two pre-Nixon congresses—the Eighty-Ninth and Ninetieth —we also beat back a series of efforts by conservatives to pass constitutional amendments or legislation that would have overturned or undermined many of the great decisions by the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren, including those requiring public schools to desegregate, protecting the rights of criminal defendants, outlawing 1. Karen Tumulty, “LBJ’s Presidency Gets Another Look as Civil Rights Law Marks Its 50th Anniversary,” Washington Post, April 9, 2014. 196 CHAPTER 13 organized prayer in schools, and requiring that population be used as the standard for apportioning representation in all state legislatures. These monumental decisions were constantly under attack during my years in the Senate, and I was constantly in the fight to defend them.2 I came in ranked one-hundredth in Senate seniority and was, quite literally, a backbencher. Senate desks were arranged, as always, in a semicircle four rows deep facing the rostrum. Because there were so many Democrats that term, four seats were placed in a fifth row behind all the other Democratic desks. That’s where I sat. To my left was the freshman senator from New York, Robert F. Kennedy, and to my right, Fred Harris, formerly the Speaker of the House in Oklahoma.To Bobby’s left was another freshman, Walter Mondale, the former attorney general of Minnesota and future vice president of the United States. Our seats were so far back that Bobby’s mother once told him that she had better seats at Hello, Dolly! Ginny and my mother, who had visited the Senate many times during my father’s twenty-four years there, attended my swearing-in on January 5, 1965. Hardin Marion, now my administrative assistant, had begun working in our new Washington office not long after my election. Our first tasks were to assemble a staff, assign responsibilities, and develop operational procedures for the office. We divided the duties into three areas: administrative, legislative, and public relations. Hardin oversaw everything, but particularly the administrative work: how we would handle constituent problems, office visitors ranging from schoolchildren to political leaders, volunteers, political issues, staff meetings, hiring, and other employment issues. Jo-Ann Orlinsky came with us to serve as manager of our Baltimore office and deal with 2. Earl Warren was appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States by President Eisenhower in 1953, a year after Warren had helped Eisenhower win the presidency. Warren had served in the district attorney’s office in Alameda County, California, then as state attorney general, and as the thirtieth governor of California. He ran for vice president with Thomas E. Dewey in 1948, but the ticket lost to President Truman. When Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson died unexpectedly in September 1953, Eisenhower appointed Warren as his replacement. The following year, after the justices handed down their controversial Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation ruling, billboards that read “Impeach Earl Warren” sprang up all across the South. In 1963, President Johnson persuaded Warren to head the commission to investigate the assassination of President Kennedy. Warren retired from the court in 1969 and died in 1974. 197 DEFENDING THE GREAT WARREN COURT DECISIONS volunteers, constituent services, and Maryland political issues. We needed to hire other office staff, and the pressure to...


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