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November 12, 2014

John Michael Doar (1921-2014)

Doar Ole Miss.jpg
In 1962, Doar and U.S. Marshals escort James Meredith to class at the then-segregated University of Mississippi. Meredith was its first black student. (Photo: AP)

A Midwesterner who wryly called himself a "Lincoln Republican", John Doar, who died at 92 yesterday, made American legal history more than once. Doar worked in the Justice Department's civil rights division between 1960 and 1967, initially as a high-ranking lawyer and soon as its hands-on chief. He was well-regarded nationally in the early 1960s not only for his creative legal mind but also for his moral and (yes) physical courage. A lawyer with sand. The tall, quiet, athletic and thoroughly unflashy John Doar risked injury and his life on several occasions in the early days of the civil rights movement as the federal government's main actor and front man. Alone, unapologetically, on behalf of the federal government in some of the most racially volatile parts of the American South, he confronted crowds on their way to becoming mobs, and talked the angriest ones out of violence. Doar even lived for two weeks with black University of Mississippi student James Meredith (see above), in effect becoming his body guard. Importantly, he had a major hand in drafting the 1964 civil rights legislation passed under the Johnson administration.

Doar also played a unique role in the Watergate scandal of 1972-1974. In the summer of 1974, I had a paid internship in Washington, D.C. (and my first "desk job") in the office of a Wisconsin senator, thanks to what is now the Sanford School of Public Policy. That summer, for Americans then in their twenties or older, John Doar became a household name. He was Special Counsel to the House Judiciary Committee on the question of President Richard Nixon's impeachment. In often televised proceedings, the Judiciary Committee worked and deliberated for three months and eventually voted to submit three articles of impeachment to the full House. On August 9, 1974, Nixon resigned before the House considered the articles. Republican Doar lead the drafting and convinced key Republicans on the committee to vote in favor of impeachment. Quite a career, and one which kept flourishing after Watergate. See yesterday's New York Times coverage.

Posted by JD Hull at November 12, 2014 06:02 AM


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