Judge, Senator, Civil Servant, and Attorney – One of Just 45 in US History

By: Cary R. Brick

Volume 16, Issue 4, April 2021

While Covid dictates U.S. and Canadian neighbors or neighbours, respectively, can no longer socialize by crossing our common border, that inconvenience does not stop Canadians from being subjected every day to America’s dirty laundry. No, not the laundromat kind. I’m writing about the nonstop good guy/bad guy, political bickering oozing from Washington – like it or not, the dirty laundry of U.S. politics is what makes news.

Recently, however, there was one positive story overlooked by the US media. It was a story about the 98th birthday of a statesman who is the only living American who has served in all three branches of the US Federal government – remarkably, he is one of only 45 men in US history to have achieved that distinction!

James Buckley [Photo provided by the author]

James Lane Buckley, born March 9, 1923, is a senior jurist, legislator, civil servant, attorney, and author. Born in New York, his paternal grandparents were from Hamilton, Ontario!

Senator Buckley is in good company. The first person to achieve that honor was John Marshall, when he was confirmed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1801, having served in Congress and as Secretary of State. Historians consider him instrumental in the ratification of the US Constitution.

Membership on the elite list is accorded to persons who have: (1) served as President, Vice President, a Cabinet officer, or an office requiring confirmation by the US. Senate; (2) served in either the Senate or House of Representatives;  and (3) served as a U S Federal judge on a court established by the Constitution.
Jm Buckley had already been a U.S. Senator from New York, 1971-1977; he served as Under Secretary of State, 1981-1982; and, he was President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1982-1985, when President Reagan appointed him to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals in 1985, where he served until 1996 when he assumed Senior Judge status.  That Court is considered the second highest in the American judicial system, just below the Supreme Court. In fact, many members of the Supreme Court have come from that court, including Chief Justices John Roberts and Warren Burger, and Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Brett Kavanaugh, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

A Friendship of More Than A Half Century

I  have known Jim Buckley as a friend since 1970, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate as the nominee of the Conservative Party of New York. It was in 1970 that my mentor, Congressman Bob McEwen, was the only member of the NY Congressional delegation to endorse him.

James L. Buckley left, and the author, Cary Brick on the right in 1972 at Watertown Airport

I remember sitting at the McEwen breakfast table in Ogdensburg early one morning, when (Mrs.) Pat McEwen mentioned Jim Buckley’s scheduled campaign appearance in neighboring Franklin County that evening. “You should be there to meet him and listen to what he has to say,” she said. When the Congressman responded, “I’d like to, but I’ve already accepted an invitation to be at a campaign event in Watertown tonight.” Her immediate response was, “Well if you can’t, I’ll go!” Both looked at me while I was gulping my scrambled eggs, and I gave the answer that apparently was expected “How about my driving you (Pat) over to Franklin County?” So I did. The following morning in the same kitchen, Congressman Bob asked Pat, “Well, what did you think?” Her response was a firm one: “He is saying everything I’ve heard you say for years, he’s our kind of guy – you  xxxx well better endorse him!” He did.

Some weeks later, a Buckley campaign manager asked if the McEwen’s campaign schedule would allow him to be in a CBS studio in New York City, where Buckley was to host a paid campaign program in which guests from numerous backgrounds would talk with him about their endorsements. Of course, the answer was “yes.” A jet chartered by Buckley’s campaign landed in Ogdensburg early the evening prior to election day to take the Congressman to and from the city.

I joined him on the flight along with another McEwen staffer, Ernie Deuval of Gouverneur. A car was waiting for us in NYC to take us to CBS. After the program, we asked our driver to make a stop somewhere, to allow us to have a burger and brew. “Sure, “he said, “I’ll take you to P.J. Clark’s (which even now, 50 years later, is still a popular nightspot) where I took Joe last night . . . Joe Namath, you know who he is?” We ate while listening to the chatter and music before flying back to Ogdensburg.

With two opponents splitting the liberal vote, Buckley won with 39% of the vote and entered the Senate in January 1971. It was then when he read a study showing that the work of the average congressional office had doubled every five years since 1930s.

Buckley says the US Code (the official compilation of US laws) consisted of a single volume in 1934. When he entered the Senate in 1971, there were 11 volumes. Today, a half century later, there are more than 50 volumes — supplemented by about 250 volumes of regulations having the force of law, written by unelected bureaucrats. This, he says, is the result of a Congress “that largely substitutes political reflex for reflection, and that is so averse to details” that it delegates “essentially legislative authority to (the bureaucrats of the) executive agencies.”

Fast forward to the Watergate era

While in the Senate in the spring of 1974, with the Watergate scandal overshadowing everything else in Washington, Buckley called upon President Nixon to resign. Buckley said that in doing so, he was making no judgment as to Nixon’s  guilt or innocence, but said that the  scandal might result in an impeachment process, which  would tear the country even further apart. He declared at the time: "There is one way . . . by which the crisis can be resolved, and the country pulled out of the Watergate swamp. I propose an extraordinary act of statesmanship and courage . . . noble and heartbreaking . . . serving the greater interests of the nation . . . (and) the Presidency . . . voluntary resignation . . .”. Buckley was the first major conservative to call for Nixon to leave the White House.

In 1976, he was favored for re-election to a second term. The frontrunner in the Democratic field was NYC Congresswoman Bella Abzug, a liberal feminist.  But when fellow liberal Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, made a late entrance into the Democratic primary and defeated her, Buckley could no longer count on getting the votes of moderate Democrats. Moynihan defeated Buckley 54% to 45%.

Upon the death of Senator Ernest Hollings of South Carolina in 2019, Buckley reached another milestone when he became the oldest living American to have served as a member of the U.S. Senate.

Books written by James L. Buckley 

He has written four books: If Men Were Angels: A View from the Senate (1975); Gleanings from an Unplanned Life (2006); Freedom at Risk: Reflections on Politics, Liberty, and the State (2010); and Saving Congress from Itself: Emancipating the States & Empowering Their People (2014).

Today, the 98-year-old grandson of the Buckleys of Hamilton, Ontario, lives in a Washington suburb where he observes Congressional shenanigans. More than a half century since I was fortunate to have had my path cross his, we maintain an active dialogue on our computers.  I think of him as an American treasure – a patriot and a man of dignity, serious thought, and strict adherence to the words of the US Constitution and America’s Founding Fathers – light years ahead of any current members of the House or Senate.

By Cary R. Brick

Cary Brick, a lifetime Thousand Islander, has been a contributor to Thousand Islands Life since 2014. A 1967 graduate of Syracuse University, he joined the staff of the US Congress in 1969 and was Congressman Bob McEwen’s executive assistant when the Congressman retired in 1981. He served as Chief of Staff to McEwen successors David Martin of Canton and John McHugh of Pierrepont Manor, until his own retirement in 2000, after 31 years of service.  He and his wife Janet, an educational consultant and former Clayton Town and Village Justice, are currently in Houston. Their Cary and Janet Brick Riverside Foundation, administered by the NNY Community Foundation, supports quality of life programs and projects in the Thousand Islands region.

Posted in: Volume 16, Issue 4, April 2021, History, People, Current


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