Peter Rodino

Peter Rodino

Peter Rodino, the son of an immigrant Italian carpenter, was born in Newark, New Jersey on 7th July, 1909. His speech was badly affected by a childhood bout of diphtheria. To solve the problem "he spent hours reciting Shakespeare through a mouth full of marbles". After leaving high school Rodino endured ten years of menial jobs while studying at night for a law degree at the New Jersey Law School.

In 1938 he joined a local law firm. During the Second World War he served with the First Armored Division in North Africa and Italy (1941-46). He also went on military missions with the Italian Army and as a result won the Knight of Order of Crown from Italy.

A member of the Democratic Party he was elected to the Eightieth Congress in 1948. He was subsequently re-elected for 19 terms. A strong advocate of racial equality he was one of the main sponsors of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965).

In January, 1973, Frank Sturgis, E. Howard Hunt, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, Bernard L. Barker, Gordon Liddy and James W. McCord were convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping. President Richard Nixon continued to insist that he knew nothing about the case or the payment of "hush-money" to the burglars. However, in April 1973, Nixon forced two of his principal advisers H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, to resign. A third adviser, John Dean, refused to go and was sacked. On 20th April, Dean issued a statement making it clear that he was unwilling to be a "scapegoat in the Watergate case".

On 25th June, 1973, John Dean testified that at a meeting with Richard Nixon on 15th April, the president had remarked that he had probably been foolish to have discussed his attempts to get clemency for E. Howard Hunt with Charles Colson. Dean concluded from this that Nixon's office might be bugged. On Friday, 13th July, Alexander P. Butterfield appeared before the Sam Ervin Senate Committee and was asked about if he knew whether Nixon was recording meetings he was having in the White House. Butterfield reluctantly admitted details of the tape system which monitored Nixon's conversations.

Alexander P. Butterfield also said that he knew "it was probably the one thing that the President would not want revealed". This information did indeed interest Archibald Cox and Sam Ervin demand that Richard Nixon hand over the White House tapes. Nixon refused and so Cox appealed to the Supreme Court.

On 20th October, 1973, Nixon ordered his Attorney-General, Elliot Richardson, to fire Archibald Cox. Richardson refused and resigned in protest. Nixon then ordered the deputy Attorney-General, William Ruckelshaus, to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus also refused and he was sacked. Eventually, Robert Bork, the Solicitor-General, fired Cox.

Nixon was unable to resist the pressure and on 23rd October he agreed to comply with the subpoena and began releasing some of the tapes. The following month a gap of over 18 minutes was discovered on the tape of the conversation between Richard Nixon and H. R. Haldeman on June 20, 1972. Nixon's secretary, Rose Mary Woods, denied deliberately erasing the tape. It was now clear that Nixon had been involved in the cover-up and members of the Senate began to call for his impeachment.

Rodino, was chairman of the Judiciary Committee and presided over the impeachment proceedings against Nixon. The hearings opened in May 1974. The committee had to vote on five articles of impeachment and it was thought that members would split on party lines. However, on the three main charges - obstructing justice, abuse of power and withholding evidence, the majority of Republicans voted with the Democrats.

Two weeks later three senior Republican congressmen, Barry Goldwater, Hugh Scott, John Rhodes visited Richard Nixon to tell him that they were going to vote for his impeachment. Nixon, convinced that he will lose the vote, decided to resign as president of the United States. Rodino was furious when President Gerald Ford announced a "full free and absolute" pardon to Nixon for "all offenses against the United States" committed between January 20, 1969 and August 9, 1974.

Rodino retired from Congress in 1988 and was professor of Seton Hall University Law School, Newark, from 1989 to 2005.

Peter Rodino died of congestive heart failure at his West Orange home on 7th May, 2005.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) CNN, Peter Rodino (8th May, 2005)

Peter Rodino, the House Judiciary Committee chairman who directed the impeachment investigation of President Richard Nixon, died Saturday at his New Jersey home. He was 95.

Rodino, a 20-term Democrat first elected in 1948, died of congestive heart failure at his West Orange home Saturday morning, said Christine Quinn Bland, a spokeswoman for Seton Hall University Law School.

Rodino was a professor at the school after retiring from Congress in 1989, and he continued to work as a guest lecturer until very recently, Bland said.

Rodino became the Judiciary Committee chairman in 1973, just before the beginning of its impeachment hearings into an abuse-of-power and cover-up scandal stemming from the 1972 burglary at the Watergate Hotel in Washington.

The committee's inquiry was the first impeachment investigation of a president in more than 100 years. The panel approved three articles of impeachment shortly before Nixon stepped down in disgrace in August 1974.

Rodino also helped steer civil rights and voting rights legislation to passage in the House and was instrumental in making civil rights leader Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday, according to a Seton Hall biography.

Rodino is survived by his wife, Joy, two children, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His first wife, Maryann, predeceased him. A funeral service is tentatively scheduled for May 16 at St. Lucy's Church in Newark.

(2) Bruce Shipkowski, Peter W. Rodino, Boston Globe (8th May, 2005)

Former US Representative Peter W. Rodino Jr., a little-noticed Democratic congressman until he led the House impeachment investigation of President Nixon, has died. He was 96.

The raspy-voiced son of an Italian immigrant, Mr. Rodino died yesterday of congestive heart failure in his West Orange home, said Christine Bland, a spokeswoman for Seton Hall University Law School, where Mr. Rodino was a professor.

Mr. Rodino spent 10 years working his way through law school at night and, after one unsuccessful try, won election to Congress in 1948. He was reelected 19 times.

Born and raised in Newark, he often referred to his roots in conversations. He later moved to Maplewood.

Mr. Rodino was named chairman of the House Judiciary Committee just months before the panel began its historic impeachment hearings in 1974.

For two years after the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel, political pressure had been building over allegations that Nixon had abused his presidential powers to cover up the connection between the break-in and his 1972 reelection effort. The hearings resulted in the first vote in favor of impeachment of a president of the United States in 106 years.

''If fate had been looking for one of the powerhouses of Congress, it wouldn't have picked me," Mr. Rodino told a reporter at the time.

In an interview last year, Mr. Rodino could still recall verbatim the events of the time surrounding Nixon's resignation. He said he wanted to share his memories with others, especially young people, so the lessons learned from Watergate would never be forgotten.

''People today just don't know what happened, and they should," he said.

Mr. Rodino would often say that his national claim to fame prior to the Watergate hearings was sponsoring the bill that made Columbus Day a Monday holiday.

He also authored the Judiciary Committee's majority reports upon which the civil rights bills of 1957, 1960, 1964, and 1968 were based. He helped secure House passage of immigration overhauls that did away with quotas in 1965 and were instrumental in the passage of the fair-housing law in 1966.

''Congressman Rodino spent his whole life fighting for people's rights," Acting Governor Richard Codey said. ''This man, throughout his long and storied career, had the occasion to take part in many of the highs and lows of our country's immediate history. He was unafraid to take on the tough battles for citizens of our country."

(3) Eyewitness News (7th May)

The raspy-voiced son of an Italian immigrant, Rodino died Saturday of congestive heart failure at his West Orange home, said Christine Bland, a spokeswoman for Seton Hall University Law School, where Rodino was a professor. He would have turned 96 next month.

Rodino spent 10 years working his way through law school at night and after one unsuccessful try, won election to Congress in 1948. He was re-elected 19 times.

Born and reared in Newark, he often referred to his "Newark, New Jersey" roots in conversations with Washington heavyweights and media interviews. He later moved to Maplewood.

Rodino was named chairman of the House Judiciary Committee just months before the panel began its historic impeachment hearings in 1974.

For two years since the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, political pressure had been building over charges Nixon had abused his presidential powers to cover up the connection between the break-in and his 1972 re-election effort. The hearings resulted in the first vote in favor of impeachment of a president of the United States in 106 years.

"If fate had been looking for one of the powerhouses of Congress, it wouldn't have picked me," Rodino told a reporter at the time.

In an interview with The Associated Press last year, Rodino could still recall verbatim the events of the time surrounding Nixon's resignation. He said he wanted to share his memories with others, especially young people, so the lessons learned from Watergate were never forgotten.

"People today just don't know what happened, and they should," he said.

Rodino often would say his national claim to fame prior to the Watergate hearings was sponsoring the bill that made Columbus Day a Monday holiday.

However, he also authored the Judiciary Committee's majority reports on which the civil rights bills of 1957, 1960, 1964 and 1968 were based. He helped secure House passage of immigration reforms that did away with quotas in 1965 and was instrumental in the passage of the fair-housing law in 1966.

"Congressman Rodino spent his whole life fighting for people's rights," acting Gov. Richard Codey said. "This man, throughout his long and storied career, had the occasion to take part in many of the highs and lows of our country's immediate history. He was unafraid to take on the tough battles for citizens of our country."

U.S. Senator Jon Corzine voiced similar sentiments.

"We have lost a great man, a great New Jerseyan, and a great American," he said. "I had the most profound respect for Congressman Rodino's wisdom, fairness, honesty and sense of justice. He emerged a leader during one of the most difficult times in our nation's history and he was more than equal to the task."

Former Democratic Majority Leader Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill also had faith in the man from Newark. In his book "How the Good Guys Finally Won," writer Jimmy Breslin quoted O'Neill as telling a group of Washington insiders at a July 1974 dinner: "When the rest of us are all forgotten, Peter is the guy who is going to be in history."

Democrats, Republicans and the national press hailed Rodino's fair handling of the impeachment hearings, which helped produce a bipartisan majority. The committee approved three articles of impeachment against Nixon, finishing its work on July 30, 1974.

Nixon announced his resignation 10 days later. His successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned Nixon for any federal crimes he may have committed.

"I was appalled when I learned of the issuance of the pardon," Rodino recalled in an October 1992 interview with The Associated Press.

"When I heard that, I almost went bananas. I couldn't believe President Ford could have done that. I thought either Nixon was dying or something and Ford was doing it as an act of mercy. Or otherwise, President Ford had just misread the whole thing."

Although Rodino often would remark that "the system works," he was still bothered that Nixon never admitted any wrongdoing in the Watergate break-in and coverup.

"He's trying to redeem himself. Redemption is good for the soul. I feel he should come all the way and acknowledge the fact that he blatantly deceived the American people; that would be real soul-cleansing," Rodino said in the interview.

Rodino received his law degree in 1937 from what became Rutgers Law School in Newark, after writing a novel he couldn't sell, selling songs and insurance, and working in a factory that made cigarette lighters.

He made a name for himself as an Essex County lawyer representing Italian immigrants and was asked to run for the state Assembly as a Democrat in 1940. He lost.

Rodino enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II and served in North Africa and Europe, leaving the service as a captain. In 1946, Rodino lost a bid to unseat veteran GOP Rep. Fred Hartley, co-author of the Taft-Hartley Act. When Hartley retired a term later, Rodino won election to the House of Representatives.

During his 40-year tenure in Washington, Rodino's North Ward district back home was changing. The Italians, who had once been in the majority and held the power, were moving out, replaced by blacks and Hispanics. Rodino came under increasing pressure to step aside so a black could represent the district.

In 1986, Rodino won a tough Democratic primary fight with then-Newark City Councilman Donald Payne, a black. The Rev. Jesse Jackson campaigned for Payne, and Newark Mayor Sharpe James backed the councilman. At the time, 54 percent of the voting population was black.

Two years later, after Rodino decided not to run again, Payne became New Jersey's first black congressman.

After he left Washington, Rodino taught at Seton Hall University Law School in Newark and joined his son's law firm in East Hanover.

His congressional mementos and papers are stored and displayed at the Peter W. Rodino Jr. Law Library at Seton Hall Law School. The Rodino Institute for Criminal Justice at Jersey City State College also is named after him, as is the federal office building in Newark.

Rodino is survived by his second wife, Joy; one son, Peter W. Rodino III; his daughter Margaret Stanziale; three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Viewings for Rodino will be held May 14 and 15 in the chapel at the Seton Hall School of Law in Newark, Bland said, with funeral services scheduled for May 16 at St. Lucy's Parish in Newark.