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Kirkus ReviewsThe jurist who gave Richard Nixon fits receives his due in a satisfying biography.
Gormley (Law/Duquesne Univ.) approaches Cox as an exponent of a particularly tough, independent-minded, Yankee kind of approach to the law. Born in 1912, Cox came of age in a time when the legal profession was nearly universally respected and when whole lineages devoted themselves to the practice of law (Gormley notes that Cox's great-grandfather William Maxwell Evarts defended Andrew Johnson when impeachment proceedings were undertaken against him in 1868). After clerking for the eminent federal judge Learned Hand, Cox became a government labor lawyer, then a Harvard professor, and then entered politics somewhat reluctantly as a speechwriter for presidential candidate John Kennedy. Despite his solid résumé, Cox was seemingly unprepared for the scrutiny that would attach to his work as the government's special prosecutor in the Watergate investigation of 1973. Gormley examines Nixon's charge that Cox was a politically motivated hit man who, with his staff, "bored like termites through the whole executive branch," noting that Cox was in fact something of a legal conservative who criticized such rulings as Roe v. Wade and who found the whole business of turning up evidence against a sitting president personally distasteful. Gormley gives a careful account of the events leading up to Cox's dismissal at Nixon's orders; the man who fired him was a federal judge named Robert Bork, whose role as hatchet man would come back to haunt him more than a decade later as a nominee for the Supreme Court.
Students of the Watergate years will find a few other gems in Gormley's pages, including an admission from Nixon's chief of staff Alexander Haig that the president "could well be guilty." Otherwise, this well-written biography will be of most interest to students of law in the public interest.