George Harrold Carswell (December 22, 1919 – July 13, 1992) was a federal judge and an unsuccessful nominee to the United States Supreme Court.
Carswell was born in Irwinton, Wilkinson County, Georgia. He graduated from Duke University in 1941 and briefly attended the University of Georgia School of Law before enlisting in the United States Navy at the beginning of World War II. Carswell served as a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve; he was discharged in 1945 (when the war ended). Carswell graduated from the Walter F. George School of Law of Mercer University in 1948. Griffin B. Bell, 72nd Attorney General of the United States, was one of Carswell's classmates at Mercer.
He married his wife Virginia (née Simmons) in 1944.
Carswell unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the Georgia legislature in the fall of 1948. He then moved to Tallahassee, Florida where he worked as a private attorney from 1948 to 1953. In 1953, he was appointed United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida by President Dwight Eisenhower; Carswell served in this position until 1958.
On March 6, 1958, Carswell was nominated by President Eisenhower for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida to a seat vacated by Dozier A. DeVane. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on March 31, 1958, and received his commission on April 10, 1958. He served as chief judge from 1958 to 1969.
On May 12, 1969, Carswell was nominated by President Richard M. Nixon to a new seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit created by 82 Stat. 184. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 19, 1969, and received his commission on June 20, 1969.
Supreme Court nomination
On January 19, 1970, after Clement Haynsworth of South Carolina was rejected by the U.S. Senate for an appointment to the United States Supreme Court, President Nixon nominated Carswell to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court to replace Justice Abe Fortas, an appointee of former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. Carswell was praised by Southern senators including Richard B. Russell, Jr., of Georgia, but he was also criticized by others for the high reversal rate (58 percent) of his decisions as a district court judge.
Others questioned his civil rights record, citing his voiced support for racial segregation and white supremacy during his unsuccessful Georgia legislative bid in 1948, while feminists accused him of being an opponent of women's rights. Various feminists, including Betty Friedan, testified before the Senate, opposed his nomination and contributed to his defeat. The NAACP, upon learning of Carswell's racist comments, opposed Carswell's nomination and asked that his appointment be rejected by the Senate. U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell, citing an extensive background check by the Justice Department, was willing to forgive, stating that it was unfair to criticize Carswell for "political remarks made 22 years ago."
In defense against charges that Carswell was "mediocre", U.S. Senator Roman Hruska, a Nebraska Republican, stated:
- "Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance? We can't have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos."
Hruska's remark was criticized by many and may have damaged Carswell's cause.
On April 8, 1970, the United States Senate refused to confirm Carswell's nomination to serve on the Supreme Court. The vote was 51 to 45. Seventeen Democrats and twenty-eight Republicans voted for Carswell. Thirty-eight Democrats and thirteen Republicans voted against him. President Nixon accused Democrats of having an anti-Southern bias as a result saying, "After the Senate's action yesterday in rejecting Judge Carswell, I have reluctantly concluded that it is not possible to get confirmation for the judge on the Supreme Court of any man who believes in the strict construction of the Constitution as I do, if he happens to come from the South."
Nixon then nominated Minnesota judge Harry Blackmun, subsequently the author of Roe v. Wade, to fill the Fortas vacancy. Blackmun was later confirmed in a 94–0 vote.
U.S. Senate campaign
On April 20, 1970, Carswell resigned from his judicial position to run for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate from Florida. His opponent was U.S. Representative William C. Cramer of St. Petersburg. Expecting to benefit politically in Florida from the rejection of Judge Carswell to the Supreme Court, aides of either Governor Claude R. Kirk, Jr., or U.S. Senator Edward Gurney of Winter Park urged Carswell to resign from the bench to run for the Senate seat being vacated by the long-term Democrat Spessard Holland. Cramer claimed that Gurney had in a 1968 "gentlemen's agreement" agreed to support him for the seat. Gurney declined to discuss the "gentlemen's agreement" with Cramer but said that he and Cramer, who had been House colleagues, had "totally different opinions on this. That is ancient history, and I see no point in reviving things. … If I told my complete version of the matter, Cramer would not believe me, and I don't want Bill angry at me." Gurney claimed that he was unaware that Cramer had considered running for the Senate in 1968 and had deferred that year to Gurney, with the expectation that Cramer would seek the other Senate seat in 1970 with Gurney's backing.
When Kirk and Gurney endorsed Carswell, Lieutenant Governor Ray C. Osborne, a Kirk appointee, abandoned his own primary challenge to Cramer. Years later, Kirk said that he "should have stuck with Osborne," later an attorney from Boca Raton, and not encouraged Carswell to run. Kirk also said that he had not "created" Carswell's candidacy, as the media had depicted.
Carswell said that he ran for the Senate because he wanted to "confront the liberals who shot me down" but denied that Kirk took advantage of the failed confirmation to thwart Cramer. … Neither then nor now did I feel used. … What feud they had was their own." Carswell said that he had no knowledge of a "gentlemen's agreement" between Gurney and Cramer and had considered running for the Senate even before he was nominated to the Supreme Court.
Carswell instead blamed his loss on the "dark evil winds of liberalism" and the "northern press and its knee-jerking followers in the Senate."
Carswell reported that U.S. Representative Rogers Clark Ballard Morton of Maryland, who was also in 1970 the Republican national chairman, had told him that he believed Carswell was "clearly electable" and that Cramer should not risk the loss of a House seat that had been in Republican hands since 1955. Cramer, however, claimed that Morton had termed the intraparty machinations against Cramer the worst "double crosses" that Morton had ever witnessed in the party. President Nixon sat out the Carswell-Cramer primary even though in 1969 he had strongly urged Cramer to enter the race. Deputy Press Secretary Gerald Lee Warren said that Nixon had "no knowledge and no involvement" in Carswell's candidacy.
Gurney claimed that Harry S. Dent, Sr., a South Carolina political consultant with ties to Republican U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, had urged Carswell to run. Carswell further secured endorsements from actors John Wayne and Gene Autry and retained Richard Viguerie, the direct mail specialist from Falls Church, Virginia, to raise funds.
Cramer defeated Carswell, 220,553 to 121,281. A third contender, businessman George Balmer, received the remaining 10,947 votes. Thereafter, Cramer was defeated, 54-46, by the Democrat Lawton Chiles of Lakeland in a heavily Democratic year.
Senate Republican Leader Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, who opposed Carswell's confirmation to the Supreme Court, said that Carswell "was asking for it, and he got what he deserved."
In 1976, Carswell was convicted of battery for advances he made to an undercover police officer in a Tallahassee men's room. In September 1979, Carswell was attacked and beaten by a man whom he had invited to his Atlanta, Georgia, hotel room in similar circumstances. Because of these incidents, Keith Stern, author of Queers in History, alleges Carswell to have been the first homosexual or bisexual nominated to the Supreme Court.
Carswell subsequently returned to his private law practice before retiring. He died in 1992 of lung cancer; his wife, Virginia, died in 2009.