Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor who was fired by President Richard M. Nixon for refusing to end his Watergate investigation, died on May 29 of natural causes. He was 92.
The New Jersey native graduated from Harvard University in 1934 and from its law school three years later. He clerked for Judge Learned Hand of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, became an expert in labor law and spent several years working with the National Defense Mediation Board and the Department of Labor.
In 1945, Cox began a long career teaching at his alma mater. In between lectures, he co-wrote the book, “Labor Law: Cases and Materials,” and worked full-time on John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. After Kennedy was elected, Cox was named solicitor general in the new administration. He represented the government on several cases before the Supreme Court then returned to academia in 1965.
When Republican Party operatives broke into the Democratic campaign headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in 1972, Cox was asked to lead a special prosecution force investigating allegations of political misconduct. He would last only five months in the position. In October 1973, President Nixon ordered Cox’s termination for his continued efforts to obtain audio tapes of Oval Office conversations. Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, both refused to fire Cox; they opted to resign in protest. Solicitor General Robert H. Bork, who would later lose a Supreme Court bid, carried out the president’s order. The firing, and subsequent resignations, became known as “The Saturday Night Massacre,” and was considered by many scholars to be the beginning of the end for the Nixon presidency. Nixon would eventually turn over the incriminating tapes and resign from office.
Once his role in Watergate ended, Cox headed the Massachusetts Select Committee on Judicial Needs, which drafted legislation to reform the state’s judicial system. In 1980, he was elected national chairman of Common Cause, a lobby that advocates improvement of the political system.
Listen to a Tribute From NPR