Republicans want you to believe President Joe Biden’s desire to pick a black woman is unprecedented in American history. Never before, they imply has race, gender or views on race been used to pick someone for the highest court in the land.
Well, that is simply not true and they know it. Since the Presidency of Grover Cleveland, where, he a Democratic President from the north was determined to reward southern racists for his win (this was right at the beginning of Jim Crow and the violent Democratic Party-led disenfranchisement of black voters who were Republicans), Presidents have courted the south (and placated the Senate) by picking southern white segregationist men to court positions.
As part of Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” that allowed him to become the first Republican Presidential nominee to really compete in BOTH the Deep South, and peripheral south since Reconstruction, Nixon sought accommodation with southern segregationists. The Nixon of the 1950’s who was committed to Civil Right and aligned with the NAACP as well as the integrationist forces within the Eisenhower Administration was gone.
This new Nixon was all about white backlash and coddling southern whites racial animus.
LBJ had made a mess out Supreme Court appointments toward the end of his tenure, which immediately gave Nixon the opportunity to reshape the court (for more on this, look up Abe Fortas, LBJ’s longtime ally and a liberal titan).
Nixon nominated South Carolinian Clement Haynsworth at the behest of Strom Thurmond and political operative Harry Dent. Both felt Haynsworth, whose decisions as a lower court judge reflected not only a segregationist view but one that was wholly unacceptable to labor interests, would be very popular amojg southerners.
It’s important to remember in this era, while the Democrats held a large 58-42, majority, many were southern conservatives like Richard Russell and Sam Ervin. On the GOP side, moderate to liberal Senators like Jacob Javits, Charles Mathias and Mark Hatfield would often vote with the liberal Democrats.
Haynswoth was rejected by the US Senate by a vote of 55-45.
Next Nixon turned his eyes to Florida. Harrold Carswell was a US Appeals Court Judge who had previously been a Federal Judge for Northern District of Florida.
Carswell had once been quoted as saying:
I am a southerner by ancestry, birth, training, inclination, belief and practice. I believe the segregation of the races is proper and the only practical and correct way of life in our states. I have always so believed, and I shall always so act. I shall be the last to submit to any attempt on the part of anyone to break down and to weaken this firmly established policy of our people.
If my brother were to advocate such a program, I would be compelled to take issue with and to oppose him to the limits of my ability.
I yield to no man as a fellow candidate, or as a fellow citizen, in the firm, vigorous belief in the principles of white supremacy, and I shall always be so governed.
Despite disavowing these comments that had been made in 1948, within a week of his nomination in January 1970, Carswell ran into more trouble. He’d reportedly been involved in creating a whites-only private club in Tallahassee, and his record as a judge was squarely on the side of segregation.
Carswell also had the dubious of distinction of having a remarkably high reversal rate on his rulings by higher courts. South Dakota Senator George McGovern, the leader at the time of the liberals in the Senate said of Carswell, “”I find his record to be distinguished largely by two qualities: racism and mediocrity.”
His nomination was rejected 51-45 by the Senate. Southern Democrats stuck with Carswell, but northern Democrats were unanimously against him as were 14 Republicans, mostly from the Northeast.
President Nixon said “After the Senate’s action yesterday in rejecting Judge Carswell, I have reluctantly concluded that it is not possible to get confirmation for the judge on the Supreme Court of any man who believes in the strict construction of the Constitution as I do, if he happens to come from the South.”
This quote among many others in that era, intensified the drift of where southern whites began to see themselves as the victims in history – a drift that has resulted in the polarization we see in 2022.
After his rejection, Judge Carswell decided to challenge Congressman William Cramer from the right in the GOP Primary for the US Senate seat being vacated by Spessard Holland. Carswell was backed by Governor Claude Kirk who was involved a nasty intra-party feud with Cramer. Even though Cramer won the primary, he got beat by Democrat Lawton Chiles in November, in a race the GOP entered the Spring of 1970 expecting to win.