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Nicholas Debelleville Katzenbach

Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach served as U.S. attorney general from 1965 to 1966, during the administration of President LYNDON B. JOHNSON. A distinguished lawyer and law professor before joining the JUSTICE DEPARTMENT in 1961, Katzenbach played a key role in federal efforts to end racial SEGREGATION in the South.

Katzenbach was born January 17, 1922, in Philadelphia and was raised in New Jersey. His father, Edward L. Katzenbach, was a lawyer who served as attorney general of New Jersey and ran unsuccessfully for governor of New Jersey. Katzenbach graduated from a private high school and in 1941 enlisted in the Army Air Force. During WORLD WAR II, his bomber was shot down over north Africa, and he became a prisoner of war. He read so many books while a prisoner that following his repatriation in 1944, Princeton University allowed him to graduate two years early. After graduating in 1945, he earned a law degree at Yale Law School. In 1947, Katzenbach was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in England.

Katzenbach returned to the United States in 1949 and was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1950. He was briefly an associate in his father's law firm before becoming in 1950 an attorney-adviser in the Office of General Counsel to the Secretary of the Air Force. During this period, Katzenbach first became acquainted with Johnson, then a senator from Texas. In 1952, Katzenbach left Washington, D.C., to teach law at Yale. In 1956, he moved to the University of Chicago Law School as a professor of law.

Attorney General ROBERT F. KENNEDY appointed Katzenbach as assistant attorney general of the Office of Legal Counsel in 1961 and promoted him to deputy attorney general in 1962. Katzenbach soon became a national figure, playing a prominent role in federal desegregation efforts in the South. In October 1962, JAMES H. MEREDITH, an African–American, attempted to register for classes at the all-white University of Mississippi, in Oxford. Governor Ross Barnett pledged defiance of a federal court order mandating that Meredith be allowed to register. Katzenbach went to Oxford and directed U.S. MARSHALS to protect Meredith as he registered. Riots erupted, and before federal troops arrived to restore order, Katzenbach ordered the marshals to fire tear gas into the unruly crowds.

In 1963, Alabama Governor GEORGE WALLACE pledged to resist the INTEGRATION of the University of Alabama. Wallace confronted Katzenbach at the university and refused to allow him to register James Hood and Vivian Malone. The nationally televised scene was a symbolic last stand for Wallace and other advocates of racial segregation. Once President JOHN F. KENNEDY ordered that state troops were to come under federal control to enforce the court order, Wallace ended his defiance.

Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, President Johnson announced his determination to pass a strong CIVIL RIGHTS ACT that would end RACIAL DISCRIMINATION in employment, education, and other spheres of life. Katzenbach was Johnson's congressional liaison, working with Senator HUBERT H. HUMPHREY (D-Minn.) and Senate minority leader Everett M. Dirksen (R-Ill.) to achieve a compromise that would ensure the act's final passage. The result was the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. §§ 2000a et seq.). The following year, Katzenbach drafted the VOTING RIGHTS ACT OF 1965 (42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1973 et seq.), which prohibits states from imposing voting qualifications based on race, color, or membership in a language minority group. This legislation changed the South, as thousands of African–Americans were allowed to register to vote for the first time.

President Johnson appointed Katzenbach as attorney general in February 1965. Katzenbach continued his work on CIVIL RIGHTS legislation and enforcement. In October 1966, Johnson, who was increasingly preoccupied with the growing U.S. involvement in Vietnam, named Katzenbach as undersecretary of state. In that position, Katzenbach became an administration spokesperson for Johnson's Vietnam policies, defending them before Congress on a regular basis.

Katzenbach left government at the end of the Johnson administration, in January 1969, and joined International Business Machines (IBM), a large manufacturer that dominated the U.S. computer market. The Department of Justice had filed an antitrust lawsuit against IBM, and Katzenbach was brought into the corporation to lead the fight against it. For the next 13 years, Katzenbach and a host of attorneys fought the lawsuit, which ultimately was dismissed.


In 1986, Katzenbach left IBM and returned to the PRACTICE OF LAW in Morristown, New Jersey. Katzenbach has remained active in matters relating to law and politics. In the 1990s, Katzenbach and former attorney general RICHARD THORNBURGH advocated for the release of Chinese dissidents Wei Jingsheng and Wang Dan. He was a witness in the IMPEACHMENT trial of President BILL CLINTON in 1998. In 2000, Katzenbach filed an amicus brief supporting Microsoft in its defense of an antitrust lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice. In

2002, Katzenbach was named to the board of directors and to a special investigative committee of TELECOMMUNICATIONS giant WorldCom, which was reorganizing after filing for Chapter 11BANKRUPTCY.


Branch, Taylor. 1988. Parting the Waters. New York: Simon & Schuster.

O'Neill, William L. 1971. Coming Apart: An Informal History of America in the 1960s. New York: Quadrangle Books.

"WorldCom Appoints Directors to Oversee Investigation." 2002. InfoWorld Media (July 22).

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