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Fred Kaplan's 2014 book John Quincy Adams: American Visionary is a more than just a simple chronicling the life and accomplishments of the sixth President of the United States, and the first son of a president to hold the office himself. Kaplan writes a very cerebral and intelligent biography of John Quincy Adams, telling the reader much about the man's thoughts as well as his deeds. Adams was a very disciplined and dedicated diarist for whom keeping a diary was a sacred task. Kaplan borrows from these diary entries to give the reader a very clear picture of who John Quincy Adams was, sharing Adams' innermost thoughts on a variety of subjects from slavery to Shakespeare and much more. Considering that Adams was a private man who kept his own counsel, that is a very admirable accomplishment for an author.

Kaplan honors Adams in retelling his subject's interesting life. Adams was the son of a founding father who he accompanied to Europe as a child. He was also a life-long student, a brilliant linguist, a persuasive lawyer, a state politician, a US senator, a Minister Plenipotentiary (Ambassador) to several European nations, a Secretary of State, a President and a long-serving Congressman who tilted at the windmills of slavery and of the southern slaveocracy. There is much to tell, and Kaplan does so superbly. In the course of telling us about Adams life, we learn so much about this very complicated and interesting man that is not contained in typical biographies of him. John Quincy Adams was a very talented poet, and Kaplan shares some of his subject's most delightful compositions with the reader. We are also told about Adams' extensive reading of the classics and his translation of classic literature into English and other languages. We are also told of the many trials and tribulations of Adams' life including his and his wife's many health related issues, his financial pressures, the grief caused by his siblings and children, his fight against gag rules in congress and his abhorrence of slavery.

Kaplan's interesting and complex account of the life of his subject makes clear that the title of the book is quite appropriate. The author shows how John Quincy Adams was indeed a great visionary, many steps ahead of the thinking of his contemporaries and how he was able to predict, with accuracy, what was in store for his nation even after his passing. Kaplan also shows us how Adams came to acquire his deep and profound understanding of his nation and his strong moral compass. This is a very exceptional biography. The reader with a keen interest in history will find this book a pleasure to read. It is not a biography of the Joe Friday "Just the facts ma'am" variety. It is intelligent, informative and contains an in-depth analysis of its subject, his family, his contemporaries and the very interesting times in which he lived.

Happy Birthday Jimmy Carter

Today is a milestone birthday for President James Earl Carter Jr., better known as Jimmy Carter. He turns 90 years of age today. James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. was born on October 1, 1924 at the Wise Sanitarium, in Plains, Georgia. He was the first president to be born in a hospital.


Jimmy Carter is the eldest of four children born to James Earl Carter and the former Bessie Lillian Gordy. Carter's father was a prominent business owner in Plains, and his mother was a registered nurse. At the age if 18, Carter was admitted to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland in 1943. He graduated 59th out of 820 midshipmen at the Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree and he served in both the Atlantic and Pacific U.S. Submarine Fleets. He then attended graduate school majoring in reactor technology and nuclear physics. He served in the US Navy's fledgling nuclear submarine program run by then Captain Hyman G. Rickover. Upon the death of his father James Earl Carter, Sr. in July 1953, Carter left the Navy and returned home to run the family business in 1953, operating a peanut farm. Carter developed an interest in politics and served two terms as a Georgia State Senator and one term as Governor of Georgia from 1971 to 1975.

In 1976 he sought the Democratic Party's nomination for President. He was considered to have little chance of success, but following the Watergate scandal and President Gerald Ford's pardoning of Richard Nixon, Carter's position as a Washington outsider became an asset. Carter became the front-runner early on by winning the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. On November 2, 1976 Carter was elected president, winning the popular vote by a margin of 50.1 percent to 48.0 percent for Ford, and received 297 electoral votes to Ford's 240.

During Carter's term as President, he created two new cabinet departments: the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. He established a national energy policy that included conservation and price control. In foreign affairs, Carter negotiated the Camp David Accords, the Panama Canal Treaties, the second round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II), and the return of the Panama Canal Zone to Panama. He took office during a period of international stagnation and inflation, which persisted throughout his term. Mortgage interest rates rose to over 20%. The end of his term saw the Iran hostage crisis, the 1979 energy crisis, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the United States boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow and the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state. By 1980, Carter's popularity had eroded.

Carter ran for re-election in 1980. He survived a primary challenge from Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy for the Democratic Party nomination, but lost the election to Ronald Reagan. On January 20, 1981, minutes after Carter's term in office ended, the 52 U.S. captives held at the U.S. embassy in Iran were released, ending the 444-day Iran hostage crisis.

Following his defeat Carter and his wife Rosalynn founded the Carter Center in 1982, a nongovernmental, non-profit organization that seeks to advance human rights. He has traveled extensively to observe elections, advance disease prevention and eradication in developing nations and work for the Habitat for Humanity project. In 2002, President Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize for the world done by Carter Center, in the words of the Nobel committee, "to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development." Three sitting presidents have received the prize (Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Barack Obama) but Carter is unique in that he received the award for his actions after leaving the presidency. Carter and Martin Luther King, Jr. are the only two native Georgians to receive a Nobel Prize.

President Carter has had a very busy retirement that has included serving as an Honorary Chair for the World Justice Project, serving as Honorary Chair for the Continuity of Government Commission and he has written many books. On June 16, 2011, the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon's official declaration of America's War on Drugs, Carter wrote an op-ed in The New York Times urging the United States and the rest of the world to "Call Off the Global War on Drugs".

President Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter

Carter has criticized the administration of President Barack Obama for the use of drone strikes against suspected terrorists. Carter also said that he disagrees with President Obama's decision to keep the Guantánamo Bay detention camp open, saying that the U.S. government had no moral leadership, and was committing human rights violations.In July 2013, Carter critized current federal surveillance programs, as disclosed by Edward Snowden, stating "America has no functioning democracy at this moment." Whether you love him or hate him, you have to give him credit for his tenacity and his energy. Even at 90 years of age, there are no flies on Jimmy Carter.
The Teapot Dome scandal was a bribery incident that took place during the administration of President Warren G. Harding. It occurred in 1922 and 1923, but did not come to light until after Harding's death in August of 1923.


The scandal concerned an oil reserve in Wyoming that was covered by a teapot-shaped rock formation. For many years, measures were taken to ensure the availability of petroleum reserves, especially for the Navy's use. In the early 20th century, after naval ships converted from coal to oil for fuel, several oil-producing areas had been designated as Naval Oil Reserves by President Taft. In 1921, Harding issued an executive order that transferred control of Teapot Dome Oil Field in Natrona County, Wyoming, and the Elk Hills and Buena Vista Oil Fields in Kern County, California from the Navy Department to the Department of the Interior. This was not implemented until 1922, when Interior Secretary Albert B. Fall persuaded Navy Secretary Edwin C. Denby to transfer control. On February 23, 1923, Harding issued Executive Order # 3797, which created the Naval Petroleum Reserve Number 4 in Alaska. The reserve system was intended to keep the oil under government jurisdiction rather than subject to private claims. Management of these reserves had become the subject of a turf war between the Navy and the Department of the Interior. The strategic reserves issue was also a subject of controversy between conservationists and the petroleum industry, as well as those who favored public ownership versus private control.

Harding's Secretary of the Interior, Albert B. Fall, had been a US Senator from New Mexico. He came to his new position with significant political and legal experience, as well as heavy personal debt. Ideologically, he was an avid supporter of the private ownership and management of reserves.

Fall contracted with Edward Doheny of Pan American Corporation to build storage tanks in exchange for drilling rights at Elk Hills. It later came to light that Doheny had made significant personal loans to Fall. Fall also negotiated leases for the Teapot Dome reserves to Harry Sinclair of the Consolidated Oil Corporation and its subsidiary Mammoth Oil in return for guaranteed oil reserves to the credit of the government. Sinclair had also personally made concurrent cash payments of over $400,000 to Fall. The leased Navy petroleum reserves were located at Teapot Dome in Wyoming and at two other locations in California to private oil companies. The leases were negotiated at low rates and without competitive bidding.

The lease terms were very favorable to the oil companies. Secretly, Fall had received a no-interest loan from Doheny of $100,000 (about $1.32 million today) in November 1921. He received other gifts from Doheny and Sinclair totaling about $404,000 (about $5.34 million today). It was this money changing hands that was illegal, not the leases. Fall attempted to keep his actions secret, but the sudden improvement in his standard of living raised suspicion.

In 1922 and 1923, the leases became the subject of investigation. In April 1922, a Wyoming oil operator wrote to Senator John B. Kendrick, and complained that Sinclair had been given a contract to the lands in a secret deal. Two days later on April 15, Kendrick introduced a resolution calling for an investigation of the deal. Republican Senator Robert M. La Follette, Sr. of Wisconsin led an investigation by the Senate Committee on Public Lands. At first, La Follette believed Fall was innocent, but his suspicions deepened after his own office in the Senate Office Building was ransacked.

Democratic Senator Thomas J. Walsh of Montana, led a lengthy inquiry. No evidence of wrongdoing was initially uncovered because the leases were legal. But records kept disappearing mysteriously. The troubling question remaining unanswered was how Fall had become so rich so quickly and easily. During the hearings, Fall said "Sir, if you have a milkshake and I have a milkshake and my straw reaches across the room, I’ll end up drinking your milkshake."

Money from the bribes had gone to Fall's cattle ranch and investments in his business. Finally, as the investigation was winding down with Fall apparently innocent, Walsh discovered evidence of Doheny's $100,000 loan to Fall. This discovery broke the scandal open. Civil and criminal suits related to Teapot Dome continued throughout the 1920s. In 1927 the US Supreme Court ruled that the oil leases had been fraudulently obtained. The Court invalidated the Elk Hills lease in February 1927 and the Teapot Dome lease in October. Both reserves were returned to the Navy.

In 1929 Fall was convicted of accepting bribes from Doheny and of conspiracy. He was jailed for one year, making him the first Cabinet member to go to prison. Remarkably, Doheny was later charged with bribing Fall, but was acquitted of the charge.


The Teapot Dome scandal was regarded as the "greatest and most sensational scandal in the history of American politics" up until Watergate. It damaged the public reputation of the Harding administration. An excellent book about the Teapot Dome scandal is Laton McCartney's 2008 book The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country.

Presidents and the Law: Bush v. Gore

The outcome of the Presidential Election of 2000 remained uncertain for over a month after election day. It wasn't until December 12, 2000 that the Supreme Court of the United States released its decision in the landmark case of Bush v. Gore. The practical result of the case was that Florida's 25 electoral votes were awarded to Republican candidate George W. Bush, who then became the 43rd President of the United States.

The 2000 Presidential election took place on November 7, 2000. The election results were too close to call because it was uncertain which candidate had received the most votes in the state of Florida. The following day, on November 8, 2000, the Florida Division of Elections reported that Bush had won 48.8% of the vote in Florida, by a margin of victory of 1,784 votes. This margin was less than 0.5% of the votes cast, so state law required that an automatic machine recount had to occur. On November 10, with the machine recount finished in all but one county, Bush's margin of victory had decreased to 327. Florida's election laws allowed a candidate to request a county to conduct a manual recount. Gore requested manual recounts in four Florida counties: Volusia, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade, all counties that traditionally voted Democratic. Gore did not request any recounts in counties that traditionally vote Republican.

The four counties began manual recounts. However, Florida law also required all counties to certify their election returns to the Florida Secretary of State within seven days of the election, and several of the counties conducting manual recounts did not believe they could meet this deadline. On November 14, the statutory deadline, the Florida Circuit Court ruled that the seven-day deadline was mandatory, but that the counties could amend their returns at a later date. The court also ruled that the Secretary of State, after "considering all attendant facts and circumstances," had discretion to include any late amended returns in the statewide certification. Before the 5 pm deadline on November 14, Volusia County completed its manual recount and certified its results. At 5 pm on November 14, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris announced that she had received the certified returns from all 67 counties, even though Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties were still conducting manual recounts.

Harris required any county seeking to make a late filing to submit to her, by 2 pm the following day, a written statement of the facts and circumstances justifying the late filing. Four counties submitted statements, and after reviewing the submissions Harris determined that none justified an extension of the filing deadline. She further announced that after she received the certified returns of the overseas absentee ballots from each county, she would certify the results of the presidential election on Sunday, November 26, 2000. On that date, she certified Bush the winner. The Democratic Party was unhappy with this result and litigation ensued.

On December 8, 2000, the Florida Supreme Court, by a 4-3 vote, ordered a statewide manual recount. The next day, December 9, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to stay the Florida recount. Justice Scalia stated in his reasons for staying the recount:

"It suffices to say that the issuance of the stay suggests that a majority of the Court, while not deciding the issues presented, believe that the petitioner has a substantial probability of success. The issue is not, as the dissent puts it, whether 'counting every legally cast vote can constitute irreparable harm.' One of the principal issues in the appeal we have accepted is precisely whether the votes that have been ordered to be counted are, under a reasonable interpretation of Florida law, 'legally cast votes.' The counting of votes that are of questionable legality does in my view threaten irreparable harm to petitioner Bush, and to the country, by casting a cloud upon what he claims to be the legitimacy of his election. Count first, and rule upon legality afterwards, is not a recipe for producing election results that have the public acceptance democratic stability requires."

The dissenters wrote:

"Counting every legally cast vote cannot constitute irreparable harm... Preventing the recount from being completed will inevitably cast a cloud on the legitimacy of the election."

The four dissenting justices argued that stopping the recount was an "unwise" violation of "three venerable rules of judicial restraint", namely respecting the opinions of state supreme courts, cautiously exercising jurisdiction when "another branch of the Federal Government" has a large measure of responsibility to resolve the issue, and avoiding making peremptory conclusions on federal constitutional law prior to a full presentation on the issue.

The oral argument in Bush v. Gore took place on December 11. A large number of protesters for both sides gathered in front of the Supreme Court building. Theodore Olson, a Washington, D.C. lawyer and future Solicitor General, delivered Bush's oral argument and New York lawyer David Boies argued for Gore. The Court had to resolve two different questions to fully resolve the case:

1. Were the recounts, as they were being conducted, constitutional?
2. If the recounts were unconstitutional, what is the remedy?

The court issued its decision the following day. Five justices agreed that December 12 (the date of the decision) was the deadline Florida had established for recounts (Justices Kennedy, O'Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas in support; Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter and Stevens opposed). Justices Breyer and Souter wanted to remand the case to the Florida Supreme Court to permit that court to establish uniform standards of what constituted a legal vote and then manually recount all ballots using those standards.

Three justices (Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas) argued that the Florida Supreme Court had acted contrary to the intent of the Florida legislature. However, four justices (Breyer, Souter, Ginsburg, and Stevens) specifically disputed this in their dissenting opinions, and the remaining two Justices (Kennedy and O'Connor) declined to join Rehnquist's concurrence on the matter.

The practical result was that the result as certified by Kathleen Harris was upheld. Bush had won Florida and had been elected President of the United States.

Despite dissatisfaction with the decision, the final result likely matched the will of the voters of the state of Florida. In 2001, a group of news organizations, assisted by professional statisticians, examined numerous hypothetical ways of recounting all the Florida ballots. The study was conducted over a period of 10 months. The consortium examined 175,010 ballots that vote-counting machines had rejected. Under some methods, Al Gore would have emerged the winner; in others, George W. Bush. But in each one, the margin of victory was smaller than the 537-vote lead that state election officials ultimately awarded Bush. Under the strategy that Al Gore pursued at the beginning of the Florida recount - filing suit to force hand recounts in four predominantly Democratic counties - Bush would have kept his lead, according to the ballot review conducted by the consortium. The study concluded that if Florida's 67 counties had carried out the hand recount of disputed ballots ordered by the Florida Supreme Court on December 8, applying the standards that election officials said they would have used, Bush would have emerged the winner by 493 votes.
Thurgood Marshall was the first African-American Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He was nominated by President Lyndon Johnson in October of 1967 and he served as a member of the court for 24 years until October 1991.

Before becoming a judge, Marshall was a lawyer who was best known for a number of successful appearances before the Supreme Court, with his most famous being Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, a decision that desegregated public schools. Before becoming a Justice of the Supreme Court, Marshall served on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He was appointed to that post by President John F. Kennedy. He then served as the Solicitor General of the United States after being appointed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965.

Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 2, 1908. He was the great-grandson of a slave and his grandfather was also a slave. His original name was Thoroughgood, but he shortened it to Thurgood in the second grade because he disliked spelling it. His father, William Marshall, who was a railroad porter, and his mother Norma was a teacher. He attended Lincoln University, a school in Pennsylvania primarily for African-American students. He intended to study medicine and become a dentist, but changed his goal and decided to become a lawyer. Marshall was not the most serious student, and was suspended twice for hazing and pranks against fellow students. But he excelled on the debating team. He seemed to become more serious academically following his marriage to Vivien Burey in September of 1929, and he graduated from Lincoln with honors. He wanted to study in his hometown law school, the University of Maryland School of Law, but did not apply because of the school's segregation policy. Marshall instead attended Howard University School of Law, where he graduated first in 1933.

In 1940 Marshall founded and became the executive director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In that role, he argued many other civil rights cases before the Supreme Court, many of them successfully. His most famous case as a lawyer was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (reported at 347 U.S. 483 (1954)), in which the Supreme Court struck down the "separate but equal" policy in public education. In total, Marshall was successful in 29 of the 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court.

President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1961. Marshall remained on that court until 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to be the United States Solicitor General, the first African American to hold that post. As Solicitor General, he was successful in 14 of the 19 cases that he argued on behalf of the government.

On June 13, 1967, President Johnson nominated Marshall to the Supreme Court following the retirement of Justice Tom C. Clark. Johnson called it "the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place." Johnson did not have any other choices in mind. Johnson's wife, Lady Bird Johnson, was reported to have been advocating for her husband to appoint a woman instead. She said "Lyndon has done so much for blacks, why not indeed fill the vacancy with a woman." But Johnson went with his first and only choice.

Marshall was confirmed as an Associate Justice by a Senate vote of 69–11 on August 30, 1967. He was the 96th person to hold the position, and the first African American. President Johnson told his biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin that a lot of African-American baby boys would be named "Thurgood" in honor of this choice.

Marshall served on the Court for the next 24 years. He ruled mainly with the liberal wing of the court. His most frequent ally on the Court was Justice William Brennan, who consistently joined him in supporting abortion rights and opposing the death penalty. Brennan and Marshall concluded in Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty was, in all circumstances, unconstitutional. One of his law clerks was future Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.

Marshall retired from the Supreme Court in 1991 due to poor health. He commented that he was unhappy that it would fall to President George H. W. Bush to name his replacement. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to replace Marshall. Marshall died of heart failure at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, at 2:58 pm on January 24, 1993, at the age of 84. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
During the election campaign of 1980, Republican candidate Ronald Reagan made a pledge that he would appoint the first female Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Richard Nixon had tried to do so during his term, but he was unable to decide upon a nominee satisfactory to both himself and has party. This achievement was left to Ronald Reagan in 1991.


On July 7, 1981, Reagan announced that he would nominate Sandra Day O'Connor. then a Justice of the Arizona State Court of Appeals, as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, to replace the retiring Potter Stewart. O'Connor received word of her nomination from President Reagan on the day prior to the announcement. She did not know that she was a finalist for the position. Reagan formally nominated O'Connor on August 19, 1981.

Pro-life and religious groups opposed O'Connor's nomination because they believed that she would not be willing to overturn Roe v Wade. A number of conservative Republican Senators, including Don Nickles of Oklahoma, Steve Symms of Idaho, and Jesse Helms of North Carolina, called the White House to express their discontent over the nomination. Nickles tole Reagan that he and "other profamily Republican senators" would not support O'Connor's nomination.

O'Connor was very professional and very cool and refused to state her views on abortion. In her interview with the President, she told Reagan she did not remember whether she had supported the view of repealing Arizona's law banning abortion. When she was an Arizona State Senator in 1970, she had voted in favor of a bill to repeal the state's criminal-abortion statute. In 1974, she opposed a measure to prohibit abortions in some Arizona hospitals.

Reagan's diary entry on July 6, 1981 reads as follows:

"Called Judge O'Connor and told her she was my nominee for supreme court. Already the flak is starting and from my own supporters. Right to Life people say she is pro abortion. She says abortion is personally repugnant to her. I think she'll make a good justice."

On September 21, O'Connor was confirmed by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 99–0. Senator Max Baucus of Montana was absent for the decision, and he sent O'Connor a copy of the book "A River Runs Through It" with an apology for missing the vote.

In her first year on the Court she received over 60,000 letters from the public, more than any other justice in history. In a number of speeches which she later gave, she mentioned feeling some relief from the media clamor when Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined her as an Associate Justice of the Court in 1993.

Following is a YouTube video of President Reagan announcing the nomination of Justice O'Connor:

On February 11, 1953 President Dwight D. Eisenhower refused to grant clemency to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were a New Jersey couple who were arrested and tried for spying on behalf the Soviet Union. Specifically they were charged under Section 2 of the Espionage Act of 1917 which prohibits transmitting or attempting to transmit to a foreign government information "relating to the national defense." They were convicted and given death sentences. After exhausting their appeals, pleas were made to President Eisenhower to commute their sentences. Eisenhower elected not to do so.

The trial of the Rosenbergs began on March 6, 1951 before Jude Irving Kaufman. The prosecutor was Irving Saypol and the attorney for the Rosenbergs was Emanuel Hirsch Bloch. The prosecution's primary witness was David Greenglass, Ethel Rosenberg's brother. He stated that his sister had typed notes containing U.S. nuclear secrets in the Rosenberg apartment in September 1945. He also testified that he turned over to Julius Rosenberg a sketch of the cross-section of an implosion-type atom bomb (the "Fat Man" bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.) The notes allegedly typed by Ethel apparently contained little that was relevant to the Soviet atomic bomb project and some suggest Ethel was indicted along with Julius so that the prosecution could use her to pressure Julius into giving up the names of others who were involved. However, neither Julius nor Ethel Rosenberg named anyone else and during testimony each asserted their right under the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment to not incriminate themselves whenever they were asked about involvement in the Communist Party or with its members.

David Greenglass testified that he passed the atomic data he'd collected to Julius in the living room of the Rosenberg's New York apartment and that at Julius's request, Ethel typed the notes up. Ruth Greenglass (Ethel's sister) said "Julius then took the info into the bathroom and read it and when he came out he called Ethel and told her she had to type this info immediately. Ethel then sat down at the typewriter which she placed on a bridge table in the living room and proceeded to type the info which David had given to Julius." Originally the prosecution was contemplating charges against Ruth Greenglass, but charges were not proceeded with against her in return for her testimony.

David Greenglass confessed to having passed secret information on to the Russians through a courier named Harry Gold. He claimed that Julius Rosenberg had convinced his sister-in-law Ruth Greenglass to recruit David while on a visit in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1944. He said Julius had passed secrets, and linked him and Ethel to the Soviet contact agent Anatoli Yakovlev.

The Rosenbergs were convicted on March 29, 1951, and on April 5 were sentenced to death by Judge Irving Kaufman. The conviction helped to fuel Senator Joseph McCarthy's investigations into anti-American activities by U.S. citizens. While their devotion to the Communist cause was well-documented, the Rosenbergs denied the espionage charges even as they faced the electric chair.

After the publication of an investigative series in The National Guardian and the formation of the National Committee to Secure Justice in the Rosenberg Case, some Americans came to believe both Rosenbergs were innocent or at least that they had received too harsh a punishment. A grassroots campaign was started to try to stop the couple's execution. Between the trial and the executions there were widespread protests and claims of anti-semitism. Despite the charges of anti-semitism, the Rosenbergs did not receive any support from mainstream Jewish organizations in the United States, nor from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Ike Oval Office

Many famous people of the time protested the proposed execution of the Rosenbergs, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Einstein Nobel-Prize-winning physical chemist Harold Urey, Jean Cocteau, Dashiell Hammett, Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera. The African-American membered labor union International Longshoremen’s Association Local 968 stopped working for a day in protest. Pope Pius XII appealed to President Eisenhower to spare the couple, but Eisenhower refused on February 11, 1953. All other appeals were also unsuccessful.

The Rosenbergs were executed at Sing-Sing Prison on June 19, 1953. The grand jury transcripts of this case were unsealed and released in 2008. They can be found at this link.

Presidents and the Law: Executive Privilege

In the law of evidence, privilege means a right not to be compelled to give or produce certain evidence or answer certain questions or obey the commands of a subpoena. (That's probably not the neatest definition, but let's go with that for now.) For example, as a general rule, lawyers and their clients are not required to give evidence about their discussions because of lawyer-client privilege (or solictor-client privilege as it's known in Commonwealth countries.) Executive privilege is the power claimed by the President of the United States and other members of the executive branch to resist subpoenas and other interventions by the legislative and judicial branches of government to access information from witnesses connected to the executive branch. The concept of executive privilege is not set out explicitly in the Constitution, but the Supreme Court of the United States has held that it is part of the separation of powers between the branches of government. As discussed in an earlier post in this series, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Nixon, that this is not an absolute right.

In 1796, in what was probably the first exercise of executive privilege by a President, George Washington refused to comply with a request by the House of Representatives to produce documents relating to the negotiation of the Jay Treaty with Great Britain. His reasoning was that since the Senate alone has the power to ratify treaties, the House had no legitimate claim to the material. Washington provided the documents to the Senate but not to the House.

President Thomas Jefferson relied on this precedent during the trial of Aaron Burr for treason in 1807 (discussed earlier in this series here). Burr asked the court to issue a subpoena to require Jefferson to provide his private letters concerning Burr. Chief Justice John Marshall, a strong proponent of the powers of the federal government but also a political opponent of Jefferson, ruled that the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, which allows for these sorts of court orders for criminal defendants, did not provide any exception for the president. As for Jefferson's claim that disclosure of the document would imperil public safety, Marshall held that the court, not the president, would be the judge of that. Jefferson never turned over the requested materials however, and his non-compliance with the subpoena was never addressed.

In 1833, President Andrew Jackson relied on executive privilege to refuse a demand from Senator Henry Clay for Jackson to produce documents concerning statements the president made to his cabinet about the removal of federal deposits from the Second Bank of the United States during the Bank War.

During the Truman administration, Congress investigated a number of security breaches, which included the famous Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers case of 1948. The Truman Administration issued a sweeping secrecy order blocking congressional efforts from FBI and other executive data on security problems. Security files were moved to the White House and Administration officials were banned from testifying before Congress on security related matters.

During the McCarthy hearings in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower claimed executive privilege to forbid the "provision of any data about internal conversations, meetings, or written communication among staffers, with no exception to topics or people." Department of Defense employees were also instructed not to testify on any such conversations or produce any such documents or reproductions. This was done to refuse the McCarthy Committee subpoenas of transcripts of monitored telephone calls from Army officials, as well as information on meetings between Eisenhower officials relating to the hearings. Eisenhower's reasoning was that there was a need for "candid" discussions among executive employees in giving advice to one another. Eisenhower claimed such privilege 44 times between 1955 and 1960.

In United States v. Nixon, a 1974 case, a demand was made by Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox that President Richard Nixon produce the audiotapes of conversations he and his colleagues had in the Oval Office of the White House in connection with criminal charges being brought against members of the Nixon Administration. Nixon invoked the privilege and refused to produce any records. The Supreme Court did not reject the claim of privilege entirely. It recognized the need for protection of communications between high Government officials and those who advise and assist them in the performance of their duties. The court said:

"To read the Article II powers of the President as providing an absolute privilege as against a subpoena essential to enforcement of criminal statutes on no more than a generalized claim of the public interest in confidentiality of nonmilitary and nondiplomatic discussions would upset the constitutional balance of 'a workable government' and gravely impair the role of the courts under Article III."

The Court found that the larger public interest in obtaining the truth in the context of a criminal prosecution took precedence. Nixon was required to comply with the subpoena.

The Clinton administration invoked executive privilege 14 times. In 1998, President Bill Clinton asserted executive privilege when a Federal judge ruled that Clinton aides could be called to testify in the Lewinsky scandal. Later, Clinton exercised a form of negotiated executive privilege when he agreed to testify before the grand jury called by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr only after negotiating the terms under which he would appear.

The administration of President George W. Bush invoked executive privilege on 6 occasions. President Bush first asserted executive privilege to deny disclosure of sought details regarding former Attorney General Janet Reno, the scandal involving FBI misuse of organized-crime informants James J. Bulger and Stephen Flemmi in Boston, and Justice Department deliberations about President Bill Clinton's fundraising tactics, in December 2001.

Bush also invoked executive privilege in refusing to disclose the details of Vice President Dick Cheney's meetings with energy executives. On June 28, 2007, Bush invoked executive privilege in response to congressional subpoenas requesting documents from former presidential counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor. Bush said "For the President to perform his constitutional duties, it is imperative that he receive candid and unfettered advice and that free and open discussions and deliberations occur among his advisors and between those advisors and others within and outside the Executive Branch."

On July 9, 2007, Bush invoked executive privilege to block a congressional subpoena requiring the testimonies of Taylor and Miers. Furthermore, White House Counsel Fred F. Fielding refused to comply with a deadline set by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to explain its privilege claim, prove that the president personally invoked it, and provide logs of which documents were being withheld. On July 25, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee voted to cite Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten for contempt of Congress.

On July 13, less than a week later, Bush claimed the privilege once again, this time in relation to documents related to the 2004 death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman. In a letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Fielding claimed certain papers relating to discussion of the friendly-fire shooting “implicate Executive Branch confidentiality interests” and would therefore not be turned over to the committee.

On August 1, 2007, Bush invoked the privilege for the fourth time in little over a month, this time rejecting a subpoena for Karl Rove. The subpoena would have required the President's Senior Advisor to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a probe over fired federal prosecutors. In a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, Fielding claimed that "Mr. Rove, as an immediate presidential advisor, is immune from compelled congressional testimony about matters that arose during his tenure and that relate to his official duties in that capacity." Leahy claimed that that the president's executive privilege claims protecting Josh Bolten, and Karl Rove was illegal and he demanded that Bolten, Rove, Sara Taylor, and J. Scott Jennings comply "immediately" with their subpoenas. The demand was not met.


On June 20, 2012, President Barack Obama asserted executive privilege for the first time, to withhold certain Department of Justice documents related to the "Operation Fast and Furious" controversy. A United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform had voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in Contempt of Congress for refusing to produce the documents. Later the same day, the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform voted 23-17 along party lines to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt of Congress over not releasing documents regarding Fast and Furious. President Obama declined to prosecute its own attorney general on the Contempt of Congress charge, citing executive privilege.

In September 2012, after a nineteen month review, the United States Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General cleared the Attorney General of any other wrongdoing with regard to Fast and Furious, stating that there was "no evidence" that Holder knew about the operation before early 2011.
The Iran–Contra affair was an incident that occurred during the second term of President Ronald Reagan in which senior administration officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to Iran, a nation that was the subject of an arms embargo. These officials hoped that the arms sales would secure the release of several hostages and that U.S. intelligence agencies could use the sale proceeds to fund the Nicaraguan Contras. By an Act of Congress known as the Boland Amendment, further funding of the Contras by the government had been prohibited.


The operation intended to free seven American hostages who were being held in Lebanon by a group with Iranian ties connected to the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution. The plan was for Israel to ship weapons to Iran, and then the United States would resupply Israel and receive the Israeli payment. The Iranian recipients promised in return to use their influence to bring about the release of the U.S. hostages. Modifications to the plan were devised by a National Security Council officer named Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North in late 1985, in which a portion of the proceeds from the weapon sales was diverted to fund anti-Sandinista and anti-communist rebels, known as the Contras, in Nicaragua.

President Ronald Reagan was a supporter of the Contra cause, but there is no clear evidence which suggests that he authorized the diversion of the money raised by arms sales to the Contras. Handwritten notes taken by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger on December 7, 1985, suggest that Reagan was aware of potential hostage transfers with Iran, as well as the sale of missiles to moderate elements within Iran. When the weapon sales were revealed in November 1986, Reagan appeared on national television and stated that the weapons transfers had indeed occurred, but that the United States did not trade arms for hostages.

An investigation into the affair was impeded when large volumes of documents relating to these transactions were destroyed or withheld from investigators. On March 4, 1987, Reagan returned to the airwaves in a nationally televised address, taking full responsibility for the debacle, although he still maintained that this had all transpired without his knowledge or approval. He said "what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages".

Investigations were conducted by the U.S. Congress and by the three-person, Reagan-appointed Tower Commission. Neither found any evidence that President Reagan himself knew of the scheme to trade arms for hostages. Ultimately the sale of weapons to Iran was not found to be a criminal offense but charges were brought against five individuals for their support of the Contras. Those charges, however, were later dropped because the administration refused to declassify certain documents. In the end, fourteen administration officials were indicted, including then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Eleven convictions resulted, some of which were vacated on appeal. The rest of those indicted or convicted were all pardoned in the final days of the presidency of George H. W. Bush.

In the investigations, Colonel North claimed partial responsibility for the sale of weapons through intermediaries to Iran, with the profits being channeled to the Contras in Nicaragua. It was alleged that he was responsible for the establishment of a network which funneled those funds to the Contras, contrary to the Boland Amendment, which prohibited the appropriation of U.S. funds by intelligence agencies for the support of the Contras. The money was traced as passing through a shell organization, the National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty, to the Palmer National Bank of Washington, D.C., and then to the Contras.

In an August 23, 1986, e-mail to National Security Adviser John Poindexter, North described a meeting with a representative of Panamanian president Manuel Noriega. North told Poindexter that if the U.S. could help Noriega "clean up his image” and lift the ban on arms sales to the Panamanian Defense Force, Noriega would “take care of the Sandinista leadership for us.” North allegedly proposed that Noriega be paid one million dollars in cash, from Project Democracy funds raised from the sale of U.S. arms to Iran—for the Panamanian leader’s help in destroying Nicaraguan economic installations.

In November 1986, when the sale of weapons was made public, North was fired by President Reagan. On February 11, 1987, the FBI discovered a plan to harm North’s family from the Peoples Committee for Libyan Students, a sleeper cell for the Islamic Jihad, with an order to kill North. North's family was moved to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and lived with federal agents until North retired from the Marine Corps the following year.

In July 1987, North was summoned to testify before televised hearings of a joint congressional committee that was formed to investigate Iran–Contra. During the hearings, North admitted that he had lied to Congress previously. He defended his actions by stating that he believed in the goal of aiding the Contras, whom he saw as freedom fighters, against the Sandinistas and said that he viewed the Iran–Contra scheme as morally defensible. North admitted shredding government documents related to his Contra and Iranian activities, at the suggestion of CIA Director William Casey, when the Iran–Contra scandal became public.

North was indicted on 16 felony counts, and on May 4, 1989, and he was initially convicted of three: accepting an illegal gratuity, aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry, and ordering the destruction of documents through his secretary, Fawn Hall. He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell on July 5, 1989, to a three-year suspended sentence, two years probation, $150,000 in fines, and 1,200 hours of community service.


On July 20, 1990, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, North’s convictions were vacated, after the appeals court found that witnesses in his trial might have been adversely affected by his immunized congressional testimony. Because North had been granted limited immunity for his congressional testimony, the law prohibited a prosecutor from using that testimony as part of a criminal case against him. To prepare for North's anticipated defense, the prosecution team had isolated themselves from news reports and discussion of North’s testimony. While the defense could show no specific instance in which North’s congressional testimony was used in his trial, the Court of Appeals ruled that the trial judge had made an insufficient examination of the issue. Consequently, North’s convictions were reversed. After further hearings on the immunity issue, Judge Gesell dismissed all charges against North on September 16, 1991.

In 1994, North ran unsuccessfully for a US Senate seat in Virginia. Today he is a conservative commentator and author.
To the best of my knowledge, five Presidents were also law professors at some point in their lives. There may have been others (and if you know of who they are, please let me know), but as best as I can think, these are the ones who taught law in colleges and universities:

John Quincy Adams

While he was a member of the Senate, John Quincy Adams was also a professor of logic and oratory at Harvard University. Adams was selected for a Boylston Professorship of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard. (The professorship was named after Dr. Thomas Boylston, the grandfather of Abigail Adams). According to biographer Fred Kaplan, Adams was up front with his students when he told them that he had never taught or studied oratory before, and proposed that they learn together. He was a prolific reader of classical literature and lectured his students about the Ciceronian model of the citizen-orator who used oratory to promote the welfare of society. Adams was also influenced by British philosopher David Hume. He wrote a textbook for the class entitled "Lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory", and he argued that advocacy had become a dying art, but that it would flourish in the United States where, unlike France or Great Britain, democratic principles were paid greater deference. He ceased teaching in 1809 when he was appointed as the first United States Minister (Ambassador) to Russia.


William Howard Taft

In 1913 after leaving the Presidency, but eight years before becoming Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, William Howard Taft was appointed the Chancellor Kent Professor of Law and Legal History at Yale Law School. While at Yale, Taft was initiated as an honorary member of the Acacia Fraternity. At the same time, Taft was elected president of the American Bar Association. He spent much of his time writing newspaper articles and books, including a series on American legal philosophy. Taft was an opponent of prohibition in the United States, and he correctly predicted the problems created by the Eighteenth Amendment. He also continued to advocate world peace through international arbitration, urging nations to enter into arbitration treaties with each other. Taft also lectured on Legal Ethics at Boston University from 1918 to 1921.

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson taught at Cornell University from 1886–1887, where he taught literature, and at Bryn Mawr College from 1885 until 1888, where he taught ancient Greek and Roman history. In 1888 Wilson left Bryn Mawr for Wesleyan University where he taught similar subjects. But it wasn't until he was on the faculty of Princeton University, commencing in 1890 that he taught law. He was the the Chair of Jurisprudence and Political Economy there. Concurrently, he became the first lecturer of Constitutional Law at New York Law School where he taught the course with future Chief Justice and Republican Presidential candidate Charles Evans Hughes. But Wilson did not like the practice of law, and as an academic, he was more interested in government. His first political scholarly book was entitled "Congressional Government". Published in 1885, it advocated a parliamentary system, and provided a critical description of America's government, in which he argued that the American system of government was inferior to Parliamentary governments. Critics complained that the book was written without the benefit of the author observing any operational aspect of the U.S. Congress. Wilson later became a regular contributor to the Political Science Quarterly.

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton attended Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, where he studied economics, political science and philosophy. After attending Oxford, Clinton attended Yale Law School and earned a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree in 1973. It was at Yale in 1971 where he met fellow law student Hillary Rodham, who was a year ahead of him. They were married on October 11, 1975. After graduating from Yale Law School, Clinton returned to Arkansas and became a law professor at the University of Arkansas. While teaching law, in 1974 he ran unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives, running in a conservative district against an incumbent Republican. He lost by only a 52 percent to 48 percent margin. Clinton continued to teach law until 1976 when he ran for and was elected as Arkansas Attorney General.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama began Harvard Law School in the fall of 1988, where he was chosen as an editor of the Harvard Law Review at the end of his first year, president of the journal in his second year, and research assistant to the constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe for two years. During his summers, he returned to Chicago, where he worked as an associate at the law firms of Sidley Austin in 1989 and Hopkins & Sutter in 1990. He graduated with a J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard in 1991, and returned to Chicago. In 1991, Obama accepted a two-year position as Visiting Law and Government Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School. He taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School for twelve years, first as a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996, and then as a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004.


I don't think I've forgotten any of the other presidents who taught law (but I have this nagging feeling that I have). If you can think of anyone I've missed, please let me know in a comment or tweet.


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