Carswell, George Harrold

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Carswell, George Harrold

"I am a Southerner by ancestry, birth, training, inclination, belief, and practice."
—George Carswell

Through an unexpected appointment, G. Harrold Carswell secured nomination on January 19, 1970, to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. The appointment by President richard m. nixon came a mere six months after Carswell was named to the federal appeals court. During highly politicized Senate confirmation hearings, the Republican nominee faced skepticism and concern over his qualifications for the Supreme Court. In the end, Carswell was unable to over-come the opposition to his appointment. On April 8, 1970, he became the second Nixon-appointed candidate to be rejected for the U.S. Supreme Court by the U.S. Senate.

Carswell was born December 22, 1919, to a prominent family in Irwinton, Georgia. After graduating from Duke University in 1941 and from Mercer Law School in 1948, Carswell became a trial attorney in private practice. In 1953, he was appointed by President dwight d. eisenhower as U.S. attorney for northern Florida. Carswell held that post until 1958 when he was appointed by Eisenhower to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. At age thirty-eight, he was the nation's youngest federal judge. In 1969 Carswell was appointed by Nixon to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Carswell's ascent to the U.S. Supreme Court came on the heels of Nixon's ill-fated nomination of clement f. haynsworth jr. of South Carolina. Nixon had nominated Haynsworth to fill the associate justice seat vacated by Abe Fortas, who had resigned from the High Court in 1969 under a cloud of ethical violations. Haynsworth, a conservative southerner and a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, had failed to win Senate confirmation by ten votes.

By most standards Carswell was a jurist of marginal talents. In addition, evidence of racist conduct during the 1940s and 1950s brought Carswell's fitness for the bench into serious question. His critics noted that as a lower-court judge Carswell had demonstrated a marked bias against African Americans. In addition, Carswell had made white supremacist comments during a 1948 campaign speech and had attempted as a U.S. attorney to prevent the Integration of a public golf course. Although Carswell renounced the bigotry of his past, the damage to his reputation was irreparable.

Carswell also suffered a reputation as a legal lightweight. His opponents noted that a dismal 58 percent of Carswell's judicial decisions had been overruled by higher courts. In a vote of no confidence, the Ripon Society, a Republican group, rated Carswell's performance as a federal judge well below the average level of competence.

Carswell performed poorly during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, reinforcing the assertion of his critics that he was an inept nominee. His confirmation chances were further weakened by a much-quoted observation offered in his support by Republican senator Roman Hruska, of Nebraska. The Midwestern politician argued that even if Carswell was mediocre, there were lots of mediocre judges, lawyers, and citizens who were entitled to some representation. Hruska went on to note that not all Supreme Court judges could be Brandeises, Frankfurters, and Cardozos.

A slim majority of senators refused to support a jurist who failed to meet high standards. On April 8, 1970, the Senate voted 51–48 to reject Carswell's nomination. Despite Nixon's dogged insistence that Carswell was a qualified candidate, thirteen Republican senators voted against his confirmation.

Nixon defended his unsuccessful nominee. Refusing to admit his candidate's shortcomings, the president claimed that Carswell was opposed by the Senate because he was a conservative southerner and a believer in the "strict construction," or literal interpretation, of the U.S. Constitution. Nixon's third nominee, harry a. blackmun, of Minnesota, met with Senate approval and was confirmed without major incident.

Shortly after his defeat Carswell resigned from the federal appeals court and announced his candidacy for U.S. senator from Florida. Carswell's senatorial bid did not succeed and he returned to private law practice in Tallahassee.

Carswell died in 1992.

Further readings

Levy, Leonard W. 1974. Against the Law: The Nixon Court and Criminal Justice. New York: Harper & Row.