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Sam Ervin: A Featured Biography

Photo of Sam Ervin

Samuel J. Ervin, Jr., of North Carolina, considered by his colleagues to be one of the Senate's foremost constitutional experts, was first appointed to a Senate seat in 1954 and subsequently won election to three full terms. Ervin had a folksy manner, quoted Shakespeare and the Bible, and often referred to himself as "just an ol' country lawyer.” His colleagues knew, however, that the Harvard-educated lawyer was much more. Barely two months after Ervin was sworn into office, Minority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to serve on the Select Committee to Study Censure Charges against Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy, which ultimately recommended that a censure resolution be adopted. A lifelong opponent of civil rights legislation and a member of the Senate’s Southern Caucus, Ervin was a contributing author of the Southern Manifesto of 1956 that called for grassroots resistance to court-ordered school desegregation. In the 1960s and ’70s, as he continued to oppose civil rights for African Americans, Ervin investigated privacy issues, authored the Privacy Act of 1974, and emerged as a prominent defender of civil liberties. When news of the Watergate scandal broke in 1973, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield chose Ervin to chair the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, known as the Watergate Committee. Millions of Americans watched the televised hearings, and Chairman Sam Ervin became a kind of folk hero. The House Judiciary Committee used information uncovered by the Senate Watergate Committee to draft articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon, who resigned on August 9, 1974. Ervin retired from the Senate in December 1974, returning to his hometown of Morganton, North Carolina.