Kennedy, John F. (1917–1963)

Author:Michael E. Parrish

Page 1532

John Fitzgerald Kennedy entered the White House in 1961 as the heir to the liberal, Democratic party tradition of WOODROW WILSON, FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, and HARRY S. TRUMAN. Youthful, vigorous, and blessed with extraordinary rhetorical powers, Kennedy saw himself as an activist chief executive and pledged to "get the country moving again," especially with respect to economic growth and international competition with the Soviet Union. But during his one thousand days in office, Kennedy's performance often lagged behind his promises.

His appointments to the Supreme Court were unexceptional. To the first vacancy, created by the retirement of CHARLES WHITTAKER, he named deputy attorney general BYRON R. WHITE, a former All American football player, Rhodes Scholar, and campaign adviser. White's intellect and productivity exceeded those of his predecessor; he often aligned himself with the conservative faction on the WARREN COURT. To replace Justice FELIX FRANKFURTER and to fill the chair once occupied by OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES and BENJAMIN N. CARDOZO, Kennedy named ARTHUR GOLDBERG, a hard-working, conscientious labor lawyer, who usually voted with the liberals on the Warren Court but was blessed with neither intellectual brilliance nor a dashing prose style.

Kennedy's appointments to the lower federal courts were often dreadful, especially in the southern circuits, where "senatorial courtesy" gave great influence to segregationist Democratic senators. The result was Kennedy's appointment of a number of federal district judges who were openly segregationist and, in some instances, openly racist. On the other hand, Kennedy did place THURGOOD MARSHALL on the circuit court in New York; the Department of Justice, under the prodding of Attorney General ROBERT F. KENNEDY, began to intervene to protect CIVIL RIGHTS workers in the South; and Solicitor General Archibald Cox became a forceful and articulate spokesman for racial justice.

The struggle of black Americans to batter down the walls of segregation and win access to the voting booths of the deep South was the great domestic constitutional issue of the Kennedy years. The administration's response to this crisis blended pragmatism and expediency with idealism and occasional moral outrage. While forcing the South to accept the token integration of higher education, the administration did not push hard for similar results in the primary and secondary grades. The official...

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