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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Joseph Califano, April 5, 1991. Interview L-0125. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Desire to strengthen the OCR and enhance its ability to enforce civil rights law

The Republican presidential administrations of the 1970s represented a lax executive approach to civil rights initiatives. Califano advocated that the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) become a more independent federal agency with more powers to correct the civil rights policy neglect by Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Joseph Califano, April 5, 1991. Interview L-0125. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

WILLIAM LINK:
You recounted that in your memoirs, as a matter of fact. Yeah. Tell me about theߞwhat you recall about the general condition ofߞyou mentioned there was a kind of policy of neglect toward the OCR in the Nixon administrationߞNixon and Ford administration, I guess.
JOSEPH CALIFANO:
Yeah. Well, they just didn't enforce the civil rights laws. They didn't enforce the employment laws. And they didn't enforce the education laws. They weren't requiring school plans. And that's what brought all these cases to court.
WILLIAM LINK:
Yeah. And so you wereߞone thing that was on your mind when you became Secretary was to revive the office and ߞ
JOSEPH CALIFANO:
No, revive the office, and I also didߞand maybe I did it in the Office of Civil Rights case, distinguished from this case. I don't know which case. I went to court in one of the cases or got Justice to go to court on my behalf, and asked that we be relieved of the court order, and let us runߞthat we would enforce the law, that it was a new administration, and the judge wouldn't let go.
WILLIAM LINK:
I see, so technically the office was under the court's control?
JOSEPH CALIFANO:
Right. In fact, if you go backߞnow, I can'tߞit was the other case. I wanted to change the whole system by which the Office of Civil Rights considered cases. Now, most of these are individual cases. This is not the school case. And in that situationߞand I was inhibited in making that much efficient, by the court order. So, I took a few shots at the judge, at some Bar Association meeting, somewhere along the way, and he got very pissed-off.
WILLIAM LINK:
Uh-huh. How did you perceive the office as operating? I know in your Governing America you mentioned that your predecessor, as Secretary, had warned you that the OCR wasߞor could have been, had the potential to be semiautonomous, independent ߞ
JOSEPH CALIFANO:
I didn't, I mean, I tried as best I could to bring that whole department under control. I put a very good guy in there, David Tatel.
WILLIAM LINK:
And were you confident ߞ
JOSEPH CALIFANO:
The first General Counsel I named was Peter Libassi, who had run the office in the Johnson administration, in the end. So I thought I had the ability to control it. I think we brought it under greater control, you know.