Ramsey Clark has died. One of the most remarkable figures of the late twentieth century, he was a man dedicated to doing what he thought was right and did not concern himself with the consequences. You can disagree with him defending Saddam Hussein and other bad guys if you want, but unless we don’t agree that even the worst people deserve quality legal council, I think we can say that he was standing up for what he thought was right and he was right most of the time. The most telling part of Clark’s career came earlier, when he aggressively pursued civil rights enforcement, to the point that he was the bogeyman Nixon used in the 68 campaign. The Times obit tells the story well:
Under the limited laws then available, Mr. Clark sued to prevent employment discrimination. He oversaw the drafting of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1968 — better known as the Fair Housing Act — which addressed housing discrimination. He sued to prevent discrimination in employment.
He also ordered a moratorium on federal executions and prison construction; banned wiretaps in criminal cases; and refused to enforce a law that was intended to countermand the Supreme Court’s restrictions on the questioning of criminal suspects under the so-called Miranda law.
Mr. Clark became such a liberal lightning rod that Richard M. Nixon, in his 1968 presidential campaign, repeatedly won applause by vowing to fire him. Indeed, Nixon had made him such an issue in the campaign that President Johnson blamed Mr. Clark, with whom he had had an almost fatherly relationship, for Nixon’s slim victory over the Democratic candidate, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.
After the election, Johnson stopped speaking to Mr. Clark and did not invite him to his final cabinet luncheon.
Anyway, Clark was a guy who could have easily rested on his laurels and spent decades making huge bank as a lobbyist. Lord knows that endless numbers of politicians on both sides of the aisle have done this and continue to do so today. But then there’s the few–the Jimmy Carters, the Al Gores, the Ramsey Clarkes–who decide to eschew the path to ease and money and try to spend the rest of the lives making a positive difference in the world. He will be missed, by me at least.