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Archibald Cox 1912-2004

Country : Plainfield, New Jersey
Profession : Lawyer
Date of birth : 1912-05-17
Date of death : 2004-05-29
Cause of Death : Unspecified

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Archibald Cox, Jr., (May 17, 1912 – May 29, 2004) was an American lawyer and law professor who served as U.S. Solicitor General under President John F. Kennedy; he became best known as the first special prosecutor for the Watergate scandal. In his scholarly career, he was a pioneering expert on labor law and also an authority on constitutional law.

Early life and law career

Cox was the son of Archibald and Frances Perkins Cox. A native of Plainfield, New Jersey, he attended the Wardlaw-Hartridge School, then called Wardlaw Country Day, and St. Paul's School. Cox graduated from Harvard College in 1934 and from Harvard Law School in 1937 where he was a member of Phi delta phi legal fraternity. He was a clerk for U. S. Judge Learned Hand of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. After his clerkship, he joined the Boston law firm of Ropes, Gray, Best, Coolidge and Rugg, now known as Ropes & Gray. During World War II, he was appointed to the National Defense Board, and then to the Office of the Solicitor General.

After the end of World War II, Cox joined the faculty at Harvard, where he taught courses in torts and in administrative, constitutional, and labor law. In the 1950s, he became an informal adviser and speech-writer for John F. Kennedy, who was then a U.S. senator from Massachusetts. Cox backed Kennedy's campaign for President in 1960. In 1961, Cox joined the Kennedy administration as solicitor general. At a time when civil rights protesters were routinely chased with dogs and clubbed, he became JFK's point man on pursuing legal remedies to injustice, often appearing before the Supreme Court. Among the cases he was involved in were Baker v. Carr, which set the constitutional standards for reapportionment; Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, which broke new legal ground by recognizing the Constitution's authorization for federal laws requiring desegregation of public accommodations for African-Americans; and South Carolina v. Katzenbach, which upheld the Voting Rights Act. In 1965, he returned to the law school.

Watergate special prosecutor

On May 19, 1973, Cox took a leave of absence from Harvard Law School to accept appointment as the first Watergate special prosecutor. Cox's appointment was a key condition set by the leadership of the U. S. Senate for the confirmation of Elliot Richardson as the new attorney general of the United States, succeeding Richard G. Kleindienst, who had resigned in the spring of 1973, a casualty of the rapidly unfolding Watergate scandal. That summer, Cox learned with the rest of America about the secret taping system installed in the White House on orders from President Richard M. Nixon. Over the next few months, Cox, the Senate Watergate committee, and U.S. District Judge John J. Sirica battled with the Nixon Administration over whether Nixon could be compelled to yield up those tapes in response to a grand jury subpoena. When Sirica ordered Nixon to comply with the committee's and Cox's demands, the President offered Cox a compromise -- instead of producing the tapes, he would allow the elderly Senator John Stennis (Democrat -- Mississippi) to listen to the tapes, with the help of a transcript prepared for him by the White House, and Stennis would then prepare summaries of the tapes' contents. Cox rejected this compromise on Friday, October 19, 1973. On Saturday, October 20, 1973, Cox held a press conference to explain his decision. That evening, in an event widely dubbed the Saturday Night Massacre, President Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox. Rather than comply with this order, Attorney General Richardson resigned, leaving his second-in-command, Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus in charge of the Justice Department. Ruckelshaus likewise refused to fire Cox, and he, too, resigned. These resignations left Solicitor General Robert Bork as the highest-ranking member of the Justice Department; insisting that he believed the decision unwise but also that somebody had to carry out the president's orders, Bork fired Cox. Upon being fired, Cox stated, "whether ours shall be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people to decide."

The firing of Cox illustrated the need for independent counsels — prosecutors specifically appointed to investigate official misconduct; ultimately, Congress enacted a law to provide for a procedure appointing independent counsels, a statute that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 1986. This statute, which had an expiration date inserted on its original enactment, expired without renewal.

The Saturday Night Massacre also spurred a campaign to hold Nixon to account for the cover-up of corruption in his administration. Ultimately, on 8 August 1974, after the U.S. Supreme Court voted by 8 to 0 to reject Nixon's claims of executive privilege and release the tapes (with then Associate Justice William H. Rehnquist recusing himself because, as an assistant attorney general in Nixon's first term, he ahd taken part in internal executive-branch discussions of the scope of executive privilege), Nixon announced his decision to resign as president.

Post-Watergate Career

After Nixon's resignation, Cox became chairman of Common Cause, a leading public-interest advocacy organization. He also became the founding chair of the Health Effects Institute.

Cox also returned to Harvard Law School, where he taught constitutional law and a seminar on the First Amendment for many years. Before he had gone to Washington in 1973, he had a reputation as a tough and sometimes harsh teacher, but following his return, he had a reputation as a humorous, considerate, and gentle teacher who won the admiration and affectionate regard of his students. After he retired from Harvard, he received a special appointment to the faculty of Boston University Law School.

Cox also continued his career as an expert appellate advocate. In 1976, Cox argued Buckley v. Valeo before the Supreme Court; at issue in this case was the constitutionality of post-Watergate legislation establishing public financing for presidential election campaigns. The Court upheld most of the provisions of the campaign finance law, handing Cox a significant victory. In 1977 and 1978, Cox also argued the case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke before the Court, defending the Universtiy of California at Davis medical school's affirmative action system of admissions against constitutional challenge. The Justices divided, with four voting to strike down the system as invalid under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 without any need to go to the constitutional issue, and four voting to reach the constitutional issue and uphold affirmative action as constitutional; Justice Lewis H. Powell cast the deciding vote, reaching the constitutional issue and holding that in some cases race could be deemed a valid factor in admissions to institutions of higher education.

In 1979, when a vacancy opened on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (which includes Cox's home state of Massachusetts), Senator Edward M. Kennedy proposed Cox for the vacancy. This proposal from the senior senator of the state most affected by the choice of judge ordinarily would have won Cox the appointment, but the administration of President Jimmy Carter resisted the choice, and ultimately Cox was not appointed to the vacancy, a defeat that he took philosophically.

Among Professor Cox's many honors was his being made, in 1991, an honorary member of the Order of the Coif. Professor Cox also received the Paul Douglas Ethics in Government Award and the Thomas "Tip" O'Neill Citizenship Award.

Cox's many books include The Warren Court: Constitutional Decisionmaking as an Instrument of Reform (Harvard University Press, 1969); The Role of the Supreme Court in American Government (Oxford University Press, 1976), Freedom of Expression (Harvard University Press, 1982), and The Court and the Constitution (Houghton Mifflin, 1987). He also wrote many leading law review articles and was co-editor of the leading casebook on labor law.

Death and legacy

Cox died at his home in Brooksville, Maine of natural causes, on the same day as Sam Dash, chief counsel to the Senate Select Committee to Investigate Campaign Practices during the Watergate scandal.

From his firing in 1973 until his death in 2004, Archibald Cox came to symbolize personal and public integrity. Widely acclaimed as a heroic figure in American law, he stood for values and principles in real life congruent with those symbolized by the fictional lawyer Atticus Finch created by the novelist Harper Lee in her acclaimed 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

The New York Times wrote, "a gaunt 6-footer who wore three-piece suits, Mr. Cox was often described as 'ramrod straight,' not only because of his bearing but also because of his personality."

Cox was the great-grandson of William M. Evarts, who defended President Andrew Johnson during his impeachment hearing and became Secretary of State in the Hayes administration. He was also a direct descendant of Roger Sherman, a Connecticut signer of the Declaration of Independence; Archibald Cox, Jr. 6, Frances Bruen Perkins 5, Elizabeth Hoar Evarts 4, William Maxwell Evarts 3, Mehitabel Sherman 2, Roger Sherman 1.

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