Katzenbach, Nicholas de Belleville

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KATZENBACH, Nicholas de Belleville

(b. 17 January 1922 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), attorney and U.S. Justice Department official in the 1960s who helped draft civil and voting rights legislation and who was involved in the desegregation of southern universities, the blockade of Cuba, and the President's Crime Commission.

Katzenbach was the son of Edward Lawrence, a corporate lawyer who died when Katzenbach was twelve, and Marie Louise (Hilson) Katzenbach, who was on the New Jersey State Board of Education for forty years. Katzenbach attended Phillips Exeter Academy and then enrolled at Princeton University. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Katzenbach joined the U.S. Army Air Force, was eventually shot down, and spent two years in a prisoner of war camp, escaping twice. When he returned to the United States, he completed his undergraduate requirements at Princeton via a special examination and received his B.A. degree cum laude in 1945. He then obtained an LL.B. cum laude in 1947 from Yale Law School. He married Lydia King Phelps Stokes on 8 June 1946. From 1947 to 1949 he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, Oxford, England. He became an associate in the law firm of Katzenbach, Gildea, and Rudner in 1950. From 1950 to 1952 he was attorney-adviser to the secretary of the Air Force. Katzenbach taught law at Yale from 1952 to 1956 and at the University of Chicago from 1956 to 1960.

Katzenbach was appointed to the U.S. Department of Justice as assistant attorney general of the Office of Legal Counsel in 1961. He immediately began working on many of the initiatives set forth by President John F. Kennedy and his administration, including wiretapping and conflictof-interest legislation and the administration's foreign-trade program. Katzenbach, who was appointed deputy attorney general in 1962, was a key participant in an international crisis involving Cuba. The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis resulted from the U.S. government's discovery that Cuba had allowed the Soviet Union to place long-range missiles on its soil. The Kennedy administration decided to form a blockade. On the evening of 18 October 1962, Attorney General Robert Kennedy called Katzenbach and requested that he prepare a brief establishing the legal basis for the blockade. Katzenbach, who co-wrote with Morton A. Kaplan the 1961 book The Political Foundations of International Law, presented a case based on this area of his expertise and stated that U.S. action was justified on the principle of self-defense.

In December 1962 the crisis was resolved when the Soviet Union agreed to remove its missiles from Cuba. Katzenbach became part of a group that negotiated the release of prisoners captured during the Bay of Pigs invasion, which had taken place on 17 April 1961. The invasion was part of a plan to overthrow the Communist regime in Cuba headed by Fidel Castro. It included approximately 1,300 members of a Central Intelligence Agency-supported counterrevolutionary Cuban exile force, which stormed the beaches of Cuba but were quickly defeated. Katzenbach and others gained the captured invaders' release in exchange for medical supplies and baby food.

In the early 1960s the civil rights movement was rapidly gaining momentum. Katzenbach became a prominent figure in the movement as the federal government's chief representative in civil rights cases in Mississippi and Alabama. One of the key initial issues was the integration of college campuses. In the fall of 1962 many whites in Mississippi were outraged when the African-American James Meredith tried to enroll at the University of Mississippi. After Meredith was prevented from registering on two different occasions, President Kennedy ordered federal marshals and other federal authorities to take up positions on the campus on 30 September. Katzenbach and Meredith rode together in a convoy to the campus, where Meredith spent the night alone in a dormitory. Mob violence erupted again the next day, but the troops and marshals made sure that Meredith was able to register.

A nearly identical crisis occurred on 11 June 1963, when Alabama's governor George Wallace stood in the doorway at the University of Alabama to keep two black students from registering. Finally, Katzenbach, who was sent to enforce a federal court's decision to integrate the university, approached with the two students—James Hood and Vivian Malone. Although tensions were high when Katzenbach and Wallace confronted each other, Wallace stepped aside and let Katzenbach and the students enter.

President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas shortly afterward, on 22 November. Katzenbach worked closely with the Warren Commission in its investigation of the assassination. Although the commission ultimately determined that the assassin Lee Harvey Oswald had worked alone, many came to believe that the assassination was really part of a conspiracy that the commission had helped cover up. A memo from Katzenbach to the presidential assistant Bill Moyers at the White House on 25 November 1963, the day of President Kennedy's funeral, was pointed to by later conspiracy theorists as being suspicious in its quick determination of who assassinated the president. In it Katzenbach wrote that it was important for the public to "be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he had no confederates who are still at large; and that evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial."

Katzenbach remained deputy attorney general and was instrumental in drafting the Civil Rights Act of 1964. On 11 February 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him attorney general of the United States, an office he held until 2 October 1966, when he became undersecretary of state. During this time Katzenbach also chaired the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, which produced an extensive 1967 report called "The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society." The report focused on the increasing rate of crime in the late 1960s and concluded that law enforcement was ineffective in its approach to both organized and street crime. The report also included more than two hundred specific recommendations to overhaul the criminal justice system.

After leaving government service in 1969, Katzenbach worked for the IBM Corporation until 1986. He then returned to private law practice. In 1991 he was named chairman of the failing First American Bank of Washington, D.C., with the assignment of clearing up the scandal surrounding the bank and its ties to the Bank of Credit and Commerce International. This appointment reflected the respect Katzenbach commanded as a man of integrity throughout his career in both government and the private sector. Katzenbach and his wife have four children. Their son John, a novelist, wrote Hart's War (1999), based partly on his father's experiences as a World War II prisoner. Katzenbach and his wife live in Princeton, New Jersey.

Biographies of Katzenbach are in the 1965 edition of Current Biography, which covers Katzenbach's career until the mid-1960s, and The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography (1995). For an overview of Katzenbach's role in the early years of the civil rights movement, see Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: American in the King Years 1954–63 (1988). Oral history interviews with Katzenbach concerning the civil rights legislation in the 1960s are in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, Texas.

David Petechuk

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