Bell, Griffin Boyette

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

Page 10

Griffin Boyette Bell served as U.S. attorney general from 1977 to 1979 under President JIMMY CARTER and before that from 1961 to 1976 as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. He is also nationally recognized for his skills as a corporate lawyer.

Bell was born October 31, 1918, in Americus, Georgia, only 12 miles from Plains, Georgia, the boyhood home of Carter. (In fact, Carter and Bell knew each other as children.) Bell served in the U.S. Army during WORLD WAR II. After the war, he studied at Mercer University Law School, graduating cum laude in 1948. He gained admission to the Georgia bar in 1947.

Bell practiced law in Savannah, Georgia, and Rome, Georgia, from 1947 to 1953, after which he moved to Atlanta to work in the prestigious firm of King and Spalding, where he eventually earned the position of managing partner. Bell also became involved in politics, serving from 1959 to 1961 as chief of staff to Governor S. Ernest Vandiver, of Georgia.

SCHOOL DESEGREGATION was a heated issue at the time. Governor Vandiver vigorously opposed desegregation, inventing the slogan "No, Not One" to symbolize his goal of keeping Georgia's schools completely segregated. Bell acted as a moderating influence on Vandiver, working behind the scenes to ease tensions with African American leaders. Eventually, Vandiver and the Georgia legislature agreed to conditional desegregation.

Bell served as cochairman of the Georgia election campaign in 1960 for JOHN F. KENNEDY. His success at that task won him an appointment as judge to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 1961, a position he held through 1976. During his 15 years on the bench, he took part in over 3,000 cases, 141 of them involving school desegregation.

Observers have categorized Bell's judicial decisions as moderate to conservative. He generally supported CIVIL RIGHTS advocates in employment and VOTING RIGHTS cases, but he opposed busing as a means to achieve school desegregation. At times, his decisions could have been described as liberal, as when he supported attempts to place more African Americans on juries and approved AFFIRMATIVE ACTION hiring for the Mississippi Highway Patrol. His most influential work was the initiation of a reform scheme that improved the efficiency of the court system.

Bell also served as cochairman of the Atlanta Commission on Crime and Delinquency from 1965 to 1966. He resigned from the appeals court in...

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