Nixons Civil Rights: Politics, Principle, and Policy

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Pressure for change came from the federal courts. After neglecting school desegregation for over a decade, the Supreme Court began insisting on solid evidence that districts were complying with Brown. With pressure for school desegregation growing, Nixon wanted to appear more reasonable than Johnson and still carry out the law.

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In so doing, the new president contributed to the misleading impression that LBJ favored quick desegregation while he resisted progress. At the outset, the Nixon administration spoke with two voices. Finch began enforcing guidelines drafted by the Johnson administration, while Attorney General John Mitchell recommended Justice Department lawsuits against districts refusing to comply with Brown. Despite surface differences, Finch and Mitchell had personal similarities. Patterson, Jr. Federal District Court actions rather than administrative compliance procedures.

Civil rights leaders promptly lambasted the change. Nixon has had six months. The crunch will come with future enforcement. At most, Nixon sought to modify, not halt, the drive for desegregation. Civil rights groups sued the holdout schools, and the Justice Department, siding with the districts, pleaded for more time. By going into court, the president allowed the judiciary to set the pace of desegregation. The Alexander decision bewildered the White House. One day after the ruling, the president pledged to enforce the law.

Need to give P[resident] options. We have just reacted—never got ahead of it. Carry out the law. The president distinguished between two types of racial segregation, de jure and de facto.

Politics, Principle, and Policy

Under de jure segregation, southerners passed laws to force blacks and whites to attend separate schools. De facto segregation, common in the North, emerged when blacks and whites attended separate schools because they lived in separate communities. Integ[ration] not wave of future. No massive program. An article by Alexander M.

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Under the Nixon-Bickel formula, the administration assumed responsibility only for removing barriers to equal educational opportunity, that is, formal segregation as it had been practiced in the South. They would not take the next step and attack informal patterns of segregation by, as Nixon had put it, forcing the races together.

A Bad Check for Black America

With Ehrlichman acting as broker, the president allowed liberal White House counsel Leonard Garment to draft the desegregation message. Conservative advisers Dent and Bryce N. Nixon had even less patience with liberals. Nixon used persuasion to promote desegregation. Rather than assign blame for the problem, he involved southerners of both races in its solution. With the support of advisers of differing philosophies—Ehrlichman, Garment, and Dent—Nixon established a cabinet-level committee on school desegregation.

Agnew chaired the panel and Labor Secretary George P. Shultz, a moderate Republican, coordinated its efforts. The committee faced hurdles in establishing state committees. Segregationists, such as Governor John J. Gurney, Republican of Florida, resisted their formation. Quietly do our job. The U. Commission on Civil Rights prepared a report that accused the government of lax enforcement. Glickstein, are the worst, you go for my nuts. In an election year, Nixon worried about the impact of desegregation on white southern voters. Furthermore, he was about to implement what no president had even attempted: full-scale desegregation of southern schools.

To remain resolute with memories of Little Rock, multiplied by one thousand, lurking in his mind would have been a feat. Morgan, an aide to Ehrlichman. As the next election approached, he used a variety of measures to solidify his southern base. After the high court, in Swann v. I reject the advice of Richardson, Garment et al. Although the moratorium never passed, he had carried the day politically by identifying himself with anti-busing sentiment.

We have to cast ourselves as reformers. Nixon stressed his aversion to busing in battleground states, such as Michigan, where the policy was especially unpopular among whites.


Combining conservative words with moderate policies, Nixon forged a right-center coalition. Yet the price was confusion. We have a body of folklore. The prospect of a centrist Democratic candidate evaporated when the party nominated an unreconstructed antiwar liberal, Senator George S. McGovern of South Dakota. In fact, he and his aides desegregated southern schools on an unprecedented scale. By crafting a message tinged with populism, social conservatism, and even racism, he delivered Wallace voters into the waiting arms of the Republican Party.

Placing Nixon squarely within a conservative tradition would have shocked the intellectual fathers of the New Right as well as diehard segregationists. Their successes were their own. Rather than being a Republican partisan or a conservative visionary, Nixon juggled his own complex views, popular ideals and prejudices, and competing pressures. That he was able to pursue such a course without offending southern whites underscores the power of his symbolic appeals, his acumen, and his luck.

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Nixon continued to argue that integration via busing was unconstitutional, even after the Supreme Court had ruled otherwise. Realizing the unpopularity of busing, liberals of both parties shunned it. In Milliken v. Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan opposed forced integration. Flemming, chair of the U.

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His policy on housing bias paralleled that of school desegregation. Mitchell would sue, on a caseby-case basis, individuals suspected of bias in the sale or rental of housing. The former Michigan governor attacked, with moralistic fervor, the widening economic gulf between the races, which left many whites residing in comfortable suburbs while poor blacks endured a harsh life in urban slums.

Like Jack F. Kemp, President George H. In their bout over fair housing, Nixon and Romney sparred for three rounds.

Limited Commitment: Nixon and Fair Housing Like most politicians of his era, Nixon never marched in the vanguard of the struggle for open housing. Wary of offending white suburbanites, President Nixon initially displayed no interest in pressing the matter and allowed the federal departments, particularly Justice, to enforce it. For most of the twentieth century, a web of formal and informal discriminatory practices had prevailed in the housing industry. Restrictive covenants barred minorities from owning a given dwelling, and many real estate brokers, assuming that racial integration would lower property values, steered African Americans away from homes in white neighborhoods.

Real estate boards, in turn, defended zoning laws that forbade the construction of low-income housing. Harry S. Johnson occupied the White House. Nixon opposed a federal fair housing law for three reasons. He also discussed the matter with the minority leader over the telephone. Remembering how cities had simmered with racial strife over the previous three summers, Nixon, like Dirksen, saw fair housing as a means to cool unrest. Besides, if Republican leaders thwarted this law and the cities erupted in violence, Democrats might blame them in the upcoming presidential campaign.

Needing to fend off the liberal Rockefeller, his closest rival for the GOP nomination, Nixon backed fair housing to please moderate Republicans, including Percy.

A Bad Check for Black America | Boston Review

In so doing, Nixon went against public opinion, especially in suburban areas and in the South. We Shall Overcome. Although the law prohibited a number of discriminatory practices, including blockbusting, it failed to specify its aim, whether to attack bias or to integrate white suburbs.

Wallace, the independent candidate. He initiated forty such suits the following year. Moynihan, a liberal Democrat, publicly criticized residential segregation. Within the White House, concern about open housing surfaced in a pair of obscure reports. Arthur F.