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A Modest All-America Who Sits on the Highest Bench
Alfred Wright
December 10, 1962
Justice Byron R. White, the greatest athlete of his time, a member of football's Hall of Fame, a warrior and a scholar, was President Kennedy's first appointment to the Supreme Court. Here are his reminiscences on a career of action and service
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December 10, 1962

A Modest All-america Who Sits On The Highest Bench

Justice Byron R. White, the greatest athlete of his time, a member of football's Hall of Fame, a warrior and a scholar, was President Kennedy's first appointment to the Supreme Court. Here are his reminiscences on a career of action and service

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For the first and only time, Justice White's voice rose, filling the room. There was heat in his words.

When people turn up their noses at politics [he declared] it's a great mistake. It merely serves to perpetuate the very thing that people criticize in politics—that it's a dirty business.

Everyone in this country has an obligation to take part in politics. That's the foundation, the most important principle, on which our system is built. If our system is to work, people must intelligently elect their representatives in the legislatures and the Congress and their local government. And the best way to do it is to get their feet wet in politics.

After my wife and I had settled down in Denver our life was just about like everyone else's in a town of that size. I played squash, which I'd taken up at Yale, and I went fishing four or five times every summer, and on one of those trips for a week or 10 days. I took up golf about eight years ago, and I like to play it although I'm not very good—get around in the high 80s if I'm lucky.

We had two children—Nancy, who's 4 now, and Barney, who's 9. His real name is Charles Byron. Once during the early part of the Korean war I went to Japan as a member of a study team that was appointed to investigate the close-support problem of the Air Force. Another time I wrecked myself when I ran into a wall playing squash, so that I really couldn't even walk. I had to have two of the joints in my spine fused, but the result of the operation was very fortunate. It's no longer the back I used to have, but I can't think of anything I am unable to do.

I had a good, satisfactory law practice and a pretty decent life. One day in the summer of 1959 while I was living in Denver, I was driving back from an AAU track meet in Boulder and I got to thinking about the coming presidential campaign. I'd been reading what I could about the various candidates and, shuffling through the names of these guys in my mind, I began to feel that Jack Kennedy would be my preference.

I think I'd seen Kennedy only once since I left Washington in 1947. He had come out to Denver to give a talk before the Social Science Foundation of the University of Denver, which then conducted one of the most successful lecture series in the country. But there was no opportunity on that occasion to spend any time with him.

I discussed the Kennedy matter seriously with various people and agreed to get into the act and head up a Colorado Committee for Kennedy before the 1960 Democratic Convention. That was all I ever intended to do. But after the convention, Bobby Kennedy asked me if I would head up the National Citizens Committee for Kennedy, which I agreed to do.

After the election, when the President asked me to take the job as Deputy Attorney General, I thought it would be an interesting experience for a couple of years and that possibly I could make some contribution, but I still fully intended to come back to Colorado, so we kept our house in Denver. I was completely entrenched in the law business in Denver and would have been satisfied to stay there the rest of my life. I had a good profession and a good life, and no one should ever have to make apologies about being a lawyer.

And then along came this Supreme Court appointment.

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