January 5, 2009 - 6:12pm ET
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Folks have been praising the novelty of a director-designate of the CIA who has unequivocally denounced torture. Good to remember, too, how the name "Leon Panetta" first came to national prominence, in 1969, when he resigne from the Nixon administration in protest against the Southern Strategy. From NIXONLAND:
The Fifth Circuit had ordered thirty-three Mississippi school districts integrated before the opening of the school year. The districts filed the court-mandated plans; HEW approved them. Then Nixon ordered HEW Secretary Finch to send the judge a letter with language dictated by Mississippi senator John Stennis: the September deadline would bring "chaos, confusion, and catastrophic educational setback" for children "black and white alike." The judge moved back the deadline to December; whence, perhaps, it would be moved back some more. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund took out a full page ad in the New York Times: "On August 25, 1969, the United States Government broke its promise to the children of Mississippi. The promise was made in 1954. By the highest court in the land." Roy Wilkins accused the Administration of actively helping the South prolong segregation, and said that if Nixon was serious about civil rights he'd fire John Mitchell. HEW's civil rights chief, Leon Panetta, a 31-year-old former aid to Thomas Kuchel, did what he thought was his job: he piped up that Nixon was serious about civil rights, just like he'd said at his inauguration.
Panetta immediately got a call from Ehrlichman: "Cool it, Leon!"
Silly Leon. HEW general counsel Robert Mardian, a top operative in Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign, marveled: "Doesn't he understand Nixon promised the Southern delegates he would stop enforcing the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts?"
That was in 1969. By 1970,
In the Administration, a bureaucratic mutiny took shape.
On January 19, 1970 President Nixon announced his next Supreme Court nominee, G. Harrold Carswell, a good ol' boy from South Georgia. An ad that Carswell had taken out advertising his run for state legislature in 1948 was discovered: "I Am A Southerner By Ancestry, Birth, Training, Inclination, Belief, And Practices. I Believe That Segregation Of The Races Is The Proper And the ONLY Practical And Correct Way Of Life In Our States." Staffers in the civil rights division of the Department of Housing, Education, and Welfare took in the situation with disgust, and watched their boss for a response.
Nixon made it at a press conference on January 30, asked if he still would have nominated Carswell if he'd known. "Yes, I would," the President responded. "I am not concerned about what Judge Carswell said twenty-two years ago when he was a candidate for state legislature. I am very much concerned about his record...as a federal district judge."
The Post reported on that record the next day: two-thirds of his decisions had been overturned by higher courts. Then it came out that in 1956 Carswell had schemed to make a public golf course private to keep blacks out. Two weeks later Leon Panetta picked up the Washington Daily News and read an article about himself: "Nixon Seeks To Fire HEW's Rights Chief for Liberal Views." He dutifully submitted his resignation that Tuesday. Then he delivered a speech to the National Education Association: "The cause of justice is being destroyed not by direct challenge but by indirection, by confusion, by disunity, and by a lack of leadership and commitment to a truly equal society." Six of Panetta's subordinates resigned in solidarity.
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