Rogers, William Pierce

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William Pierce Rogers served as U.S. attorney general from 1957 to 1961. Rogers, who later would serve as secretary of state in the Nixon administration, distinguished himself as attorney general by vigorously enforcing civil rights laws and seeking ways of ending racially segregated public schools.

Rogers was born on June 23, 1913, in Norfolk, New York. He graduated from Colgate University in 1934 and received his law degree from Cornell Law School in 1937. He was admitted to the New York bar in 1937 and entered private practice. Rogers was assistant district attorney for New York County from 1938 until 1942, when he joined the U.S. Navy, serving as a lieutenant commander during world war ii. In 1946, after the war, he returned to his district attorney position.

Rogers's career shifted from state to federal government in the late 1940s. In 1947 and 1948, he was chief counsel of the Senate War Investigating Committee, becoming chief counsel of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in 1949.

In 1950, Rogers returned to private practice in New York. With the election of President dwight d. eisenhower, Rogers was soon back in Washington, becoming deputy attorney general in 1953. He assisted Attorney General herbert brownell in the administration of the justice department and became a key figure in the emerging debate over civil rights. In the wake of brown v. board of education of topeka, kansas, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954), which prohibited state-imposed racial segregation in public schools, many southern communities pledged to defy or evade the U.S. Supreme Court decision. Some school boards closed the schools and encouraged attendance at white-only private schools, while others refused to integrate. Rogers was an advocate for federal leadership to end segregation and to promote integration. He played a major role in the writing and enactment of the civil rights act of 1957, 42 U.S.C.A. § 1975 et seq., the first federal civil rights legislation since the 1870s.

In November 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Rogers to be attorney general. Rogers continued to enforce civil rights laws and to promote a vision of an integrated society. During his tenure, he also prosecuted several high-level Justice Department officials for corruption. Rogers remained attorney general until the end of the Eisenhower administration in January 1961.

During the 1960s, Rogers resumed his law practice. In 1969, President richard m. nixon appointed Rogers to be secretary of state, a position that he held for the president's entire first term. Rogers played a diminished role in foreign policy, however, because Nixon and National Security Adviser henry kissinger assumed most of the responsibility for charting relations with other nations. Rogers's most notable accomplishment as secretary of state was in negotiating a truce between Egypt and Israel along the Suez Canal in 1970. He loyally defended the administration's vietnam war policies but left all major policy decisions to Kissinger.

Rogers returned to private practice in 1973. In 1986, he was asked to head a presidential commission to investigate the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The commission issued a report that was critical of the performance of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

"There can be no lasting peace without a just settlement of the problems of t[he] Palestinians … [which] must take into account the desires and aspirations of [both] the refugees and the legitimate concerns of the governments in the area."
—William Rogers

Rogers continued to practice law as a senior partner for a number of years with the international law firm of Rogers & Wells. Rogers died January 2, 2001, in Bethesda, Maryland.

further readings

Meador, Daniel J. 1980. The President, the Attorney General, and the Department of Justice. Charlottesville, VA.: White Burkett Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia.

Powell, H. Jefferson. 1999. The Constitution and the Attorneys General. Durham, N.C: Carolina Academy Press.

U.S. Department of Justice. 1985. Attorneys General of the United States, 1789–1985. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

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