Ford leads effort to oust Nixon Supreme Court picks
- The Detroit News has several other old articles like
this which you all might be interested in.
Nov. 5, 1974
Ford leads effort to oust Nixon Supreme Court picks
J.F. terHORST News National Columnist
The Nixon presidency was about to be something less
than pure joy for House Minority Leader Ford.
Repeatedly he would be called upon to defend the
president against attacks -- not only from Democrats,
but also from liberal members for the House Republican
minority -- and sometimes to defend the president in
the face of severe criticism from Senate Republicans.
On a number of occasions, Ford's loyalty to the Nixon
presidency would seem to transcend all other
Ford's efforts to help the embattled man in the White
House were no more evident than in his highly
publicized and ill-fated attempt to impeach Supreme
Court Justice William O. Douglas.
Although Ford's anti-Douglas move was undoubtedly
motivated by his loyalty to Nixon, it was nevertheless
ill-advised and certainly constitutes a dark blot on
his congressional career.
Ford's concern with the Supreme Court's behavior was
intensified by the political controversy over
Associate Justice Abe Fortas' relationship with
financier Louis E. Wolfson, who had been indicted in
1966 for selling unregistered securities. By May 1969,
Fortas, steadfast in his denial of wrongdoing, had
been driven from the Supreme Court by resignation
because of the constant controversy over his
relationship with Wolfson.
President Nixon nominated Judge Clement F. Haynsworth
Jr. to fill the Fortas vacancy.
A conservative from South Carolina, Haynsworth had
been appointed by the U.S. Appeals Court in 1957 by
President Eisenhower, but critics complained that he
had displayed ethical impropriety and poor judgment by
participating in cases in which there was a direct --
and sometimes financial -- conflict of interest.
As a spectator on the other side of the Capitol,
during the unsuccessful Haynsworth fight, Ford had
sensed an impending blow to the Nixon presidency.
While Senate debate raged, he spoke out as House
Minority Leader, stating that ethical standards being
applied to nominees to the Supreme Court should also
apply to justices who were already on the bench.
Then on Nov. 7, Ford announced that he had assigned a
member of his staff to investigate charges that had
been made against Justice Douglas, an apt target at
that juncture in the Haynsworth debate.
In mid-January 1970, President Nixon announced his
second nominee, Court of Appeals Judge G. Harold
Carswell of Florida. To many senators of both parties
Carswell's nomination was as bad or worse than
Haywnsorth's. Ten weeks after his nomination, Carswell
was rejected 51 to 45 on a roll-call Senate vote.
Meanwhile, Ford's investigation of Justice Douglas was
continuing in the House. After the two Nixon
administration defeats, Ford took to the floor to call
for the impeachment of Douglas. By this time, he had
fashioned a conservative coalition comprised of
Southern Democrats led by Rep. Joe Waggoner of
Louisiana and Republican anti-libertarians led by Rep.
Louis C. Wyman of New Hampshire.
Given the timing of Ford's move, it was seen in and
out of Congress as an attempt by Pro-Nixon Republicans
to mount a counterattack on the Senate for having
turned down the two Southern conservatives the
president had tried to place on the Supreme Court.
In his impeachment address on the floor, Ford made
five charges against Douglas. They included Douglas'
relationship with Albert Parvin and the Parvin
Ford contended that Douglas had been legal counsel to
Parvin in violation of federal law when the foundation
was established in 1960. Ford also charged that
Douglas had given a legal opinion to the foundation
regarding an investigation by the Internal Revenue
Ford's additional charges related to Douglas' prolific
writing records. A Douglas book, "Points of
Rebellion," and articles by Douglas in "Evergreen
Review" and Avant Garde" also were raised by Ford.
The charges regarding the book argued with Douglas'
main thesis, which Ford interpreted as advocating
revolutionary overthrow of "the establishment" and
which he said violated the standard of good behavior
of a Supreme Court justice. The "Evergreen" article
appeared in the April 1970 issue -- one that also
contained nude photographs that Ford dubbed
In his speech, Ford said that Douglas had given "a
blunt message to the American people and their
representatives in the Congressthat he does not give a
tinker's damn what we think of him and his behavior on
The "Avant Garde" charges were a bit more complex.
Ralph Ginzburg, publisher of the magazine, was
convicted of obscenity in connection with another of
his publications, "Eros." In 1966, that conviction was
upheld by the Supreme Court, with Douglas dissenting.
With Douglas dissenting once again, the court awarded
punitive damages to Sen. Barry Goldwater in a libel
suit against another publication owned by Ginzburg.
Because "Avant Garde" had paid Douglas $350 for an
article on folksinging that appeared in a 1969 issue,
and Douglas had not disqualified himself from the
Ginzberg cases, Ford contended that Douglas'
"declining to disqualify (himself) in this case is
Ford demanded that the House create a special
committee to investigate his charges against Douglas
and see whether there was merit for an impeachment
However, he was interrupted by a congressman from
Indiana, Democrat Andrew Jacobs Jr., who happened to
be a friend of Justice Douglas. Jacobs challenged the
Minority Leader to introduce a resolution to impeach
Douglas without delay.
When Ford refused, Jacobs introduced an impeachment
resolution, which thereby prevented the creation of
the special committee Ford had sought.
Had Ford succeeded with his plan, the Douglas matter
would have gone to the House Rules Committee, which
was chaired by a conservative Southern Democrat.
Jacobs' resolution, on the other hand, was referred to
the House Committee on the Judiciary and its chairman,
Rep. Emanuel Celler of New York, was assumed to be
less critical of Douglas' behavior.
Under the parliamentary situation that prevailed,
Jacobs' motion ad precedence had his proposal won out.
The result was that the Judiciary Committee formed a
special subcommittee to investigate Ford's accusations
For five months, the special subcommittee labored and
on Dec. 3, 1970, voted 3 to 1 that there were no
grounds for the impeachment of Justice Douglas.
On Dec. 16, the report of the subcommittee was
released and endorsed by the Democratic majority,
compromising Celler, Rep. Byron G Rogers of Colorado
and Jack Brooks of Texas. The ranking Republican
member, Edward Hutchinson of Michigan, dissented and
the other Republican member, William McCulloch of
Did Ford indeed consider the activities outlined in
his charges against Douglas grounds for impeachment
from a seat on the highest court in the land? Ford
told the House:
"The only honest answer is that an impeachable offense
is whatever the majority of the House of
Representatives considers it to be at a given moment
of history; conviction results from whatever offenses
two-thirds of the other body (the Senate) considers to
be sufficiently serious to require removal of the
accused from office -- there are few principals among
the handful of precedents.
Fortunately, Ford's efforts to mount an impeachment
campaign against Douglas were taken with a grain of
salt in Congress and generally around the country.
Almost everyone with any political perception
concluded early on that it was little more than a
White House inspired attempt to get back at the
critics of the Southern conservative judges the
president was trying to place on the Supreme Court.
There was evidence that Ford had been tricked into
mounting his impeachment battle against Douglas by
Nixon men in the White House and the Justice
Department -- notably Atty. Gen. John Mitchell, who
seemed to know how to appeal to the dark side of
Richard Nixon's political instincts.
The Justice Department had readily provided Ford with
information it deemed useful in his assault on
Douglas. When that fact became known, it served to
lower Ford's prestige in the House.
The attempt to impeach Douglas was indicative of the
kind of thinking that was beginning to develop in the
Nixon white House -- a White House dominated by the
conspiratorial style of H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman
and, of course, Mitchell at the Justice Department.