Clement F. Haynsworth Jr., whose 1969 nomination to the Supreme Court by President Richard M. Nixon was rejected by the Senate because of questions about his judicial ethics and views on minorities, died of a heart attack Wednesday. He was 77.
The semi-retired federal judge died at home. His wife, Dorothy, said her husband had suffered from a heart ailment in the last year but had continued to hear cases part-time.
Nixon nominated Haynsworth for the high court seat left vacant by Justice Abe Fortas’ resignation. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10 to 7 in favor of the nomination, but reports questioning Haynsworth’s judicial ethics arose.
The most damaging centered on his participation in a case involving a company that did extensive business with another company in which he owned a one-seventh interest.
He had been part owner of Carolina Vend-a-Matic when he ruled as a U.S. circuit judge in favor of a textile combine that did business with the company.
In addition, civil rights groups and organized labor opposed Haynsworth’s nomination, portraying him as insensitive to minorities and working people.
On Nov. 21, 1969, the Senate defeated his nomination by a 55-45 vote. Seventeen of the Senate’s 43 Republicans deserted Nixon to cast opposition ballots.
Haynsworth later said the criticisms of his stance on racial issues were unfair.
“What happened was we had a terrible practical problem,” he explained in 1977. “You couldn’t jump from complete segregation to complete integration in a moment. The critics felt I didn’t press forward as rapidly as they might have hoped.”
Haynsworth’s rejection marked the first time since 1930 that the Senate had refused confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee. Circuit Judge John J. Parker of North Carolina had been rejected in 1930. He was opposed by labor for opinions supporting injunctions against strikers.
In April, 1970, the Senate rejected, 51 to 45, a second Nixon Supreme Court nominee, G. Harrold Carswell. Some senators cited the high reversal percentage of Carswell’s district court decisions by higher courts.
Finally, on May 12, 1970, Judge Harry Andrew Blackmun of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals was confirmed 94 to 0 to take Fortas’ seat.
On Wednesday, former Chief Justice Warren Burger called Haynsworth “one of the outstanding judges in this country. It was a great loss when he was not confirmed to the Supreme Court.”
“I’ll miss him,” said U.S. Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) “He was a special friend and one of the nation’s finest jurists. I only regret that the American people were denied his exceptional talents on the nation’s highest court.”
In 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower had named Haynsworth, a summa cum laude graduate of Furman University in 1933 and a 1936 graduate of Harvard Law School, to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. Earlier he had been in private practice with his family’s law firm. In 1964, Haynsworth became chief judge. He retried from full-time work on the bench in 1981.
Although semi-retired, Haynsworth maintained an office in the Greenville federal building.
When the Clement F. Haynsworth Jr. Federal Building was renamed in his honor in May, 1983, speakers at the ceremony suggested that the gesture was an apology for the Senate’s rejection.
At that ceremony, Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. said the Senate’s rejection was “purely political” and that “injustice was done” by the vote.
Haynsworth called the renaming “a touching footnote to the history of 1969.”
In December, 1969, after Nixon and Haynsworth met face to face for the first time when Haynsworth announced his decision to continue on the federal bench, the former President called his nominee “a man of courage and integrity . . . (who) is needed on one of the highest courts of this land.”
Haynsworth, whose family had been in law for five generations, responded that he obviously did not like losing the Supreme Court nomination. “But I never felt that a setback should be accepted as a final defeat of a man as a judge.”