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Attorney General of the United States, controversial lawyer
William Ramsey Clark was born in Dallas, Texas, on December 18, 1927. His father, Tom C. Clark, served as Attorney General under President Harry S. Truman (1945-1949) and then as Justice of the Supreme Court (1949-1967); he resigned from the latter position after swearing in his son as Attorney General in order to prevent any potential conflicts of interest.
Clark left high school to join the U.S. Marine Corps in 1945 and served in Europe during the final months of World War II. He received his Bachelor's Degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1949 and his Master's and Law Degrees from the University of Chicago in 1950. He was admitted to the State Bar of Texas in 1950, and the next year became an associate in his father's law firm.
Clark entered public service when President John F. Kennedy named him Assistant Attorney General of the Lands Division in 1961. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson promoted him to the position of Deputy Attorney General, in which capacity he supervised the drafting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and federal enforcement of the court order protecting the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. As Attorney General from 1967 to 1969, he focused on social issues and civil rights. During his tenure he set up the first federal narcotics addict-treatment unit; restructured federal prisons to emphasize the importance of rehabilitation, early release, education, and job training rather than punishment; and became the first Attorney General to call for the elimination of the death penalty. He left the Justice Department after Richard Nixon assumed the presidency.
After leaving government service, Clark worked as a law professor and was a prominent member of the anti-Vietnam War movement. He also became well known for his many unpopular, often controversial, causes. In 1970, he founded the Committee for Public Justice, which openly opposed the FBI, especially its investigation of the Communist Party USA. In 1974 he was the Democratic Party's candidate for one of New York's seats in the U.S. Senate, but he lost the general election to Republican Jacob Javits. He ran for the Democratic nomination again in 1976, but lost the primary to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, won went on to win the general election.
In November 1980, as a leader in the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, he attended a congress in Malta, where he chaired its Commission on the Right to Security and Self-Fulfillment as Human Rights. In May 1981, he sponsored a demonstration against U.S. policy in South America. In 1986 he went to Nicaragua in order to publicly denounce President Ronald Reagan's support of the Contras, who were attempting to overthrow the Sandinista government. He founded the International Action Center in 1991, and the International Peace for Cuba Appeal in 1994.
One of Clark's most controversial actions came in late-1998, when, as a keynote speaker at a human rights conference organized by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, he accused the United States of bring the world's worst abuser of human rights. He subsequently became a very vocal opponent of almost every U.S. military action, especially the Gulf War. In 2004 he was part of the legal team that defended Sadam Hussein before an Iraqi tribunal. He continues to speak out against U.S. actions he deems either illegal or morally wrong.
Ramsey Clark is married to the former Georgia Welch, a classmate from the University of Texas. The couple has two children, Tom and Rhonda.
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This page was last updated on 12/13/2017.