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The Case Against Richard Nixon

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Forty years ago this month, famed Baylor Lawyer Leon Jaworski (JD '25) won a monumental case before the U.S. Supreme Court that forced President Richard Nixon to release audio recordings regarding the Watergate break-in. Just weeks later, Nixon resigned. Jaworski passed away in 1982. The following is an excerpt of a graduation speech given by Baylor Law Professor Mike Morrison in 2004 on the 30th anniversary of the resignation.

The story began on a Monday morning in 1974, when the clerk called the case of The United States of America v. Richard Nixon. The Supreme Court was being asked to decide whether the president of the United States could withhold evidence in a criminal matter in the face of a federal subpoena. A subpoena obtained by a Baylor Lawyer. Could the president refuse to turn over tapes of White House conversations relevant to a criminal proceeding?

A unanimous Supreme Court answered that there is no absolute executive privilege in a criminal case. It also established, hopefully once and for all, that it is the courts, with the aid of courageous and dedicated lawyers, that will determine the law, not politicians, however high their office.

How was this Baylor Lawyer treated following the monumental victory of the rule of law over the power of high office? When the Supreme Court ordered President Nixon to hand over the tapes, a young couple was so happy that they wrote that they were naming their newborn son for our Baylor Lawyer. However, when that same lawyer chose not to challenge President Ford's pardon of Nixon, his decision was denounced in the media and by many of the public. To add insult to injury, the young couple telegrammed once more; they were changing their son's name.

Of course you know that this Baylor lawyer, the one who confirmed our belief that no one, not even a sitting president of the United States, is above the law, was Leon Jaworski.

Few lawyers have achieved greater professional recognition and personal acclaim than Leon Jaworski. He variously served as president of the State Bar of Texas, was one of only three Texans to serve as president of the American Bar Association, (one of the remaining two was Morris Harrell, also a Baylor Lawyer), and the managing partner of one of the world's most prestigious law firms. He amassed great material wealth and was feted by governmental and civic organizations with honors that, when listed, run to several pages in length.

How, then, do you suppose Leon Jaworski judged his life and career? When asked, he always spoke first and most meaningfully of his family and of his faith. When asked to consider his career, he didn’t focus on his impressive resume. Instead, he would tell of the time he risked his practice by trying and ultimately failing to keep a guilty man from being executed, or the time he lost professional and personal relationships to face down a governor who had abused the power of his office because of the color of another person's skin, or, finally, the time he represented all of us and the rule of law against a president who no longer believed that all are equal in the eyes of the law. What Leon Jaworski cherished as he looked back at his life and career were those he loved and the people he was able to help when they most needed help.

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