Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and president of American Association of Law Schools, released a statement about successes and the unfinished work of Watergate 50 years later. The statement is signed by dozens of Watergate’s original investigative staff, academics, politicians, and other experts.
“Fifty years after Watergate, democracy faces serious threats in the United States and across the world. The events preceding and culminating in the insurrection on January 6 were unprecedented in American history. Authoritarian regimes have come to power in many countries. Now, more than ever, reflecting on what worked during Watergate – and which reforms are still needed - is crucial,” opens Chemerinsky in the statement.
The statement goes on to discuss the need for all branches of government to work towards justice, the importance of a free press, and the necessity of politicians to commit to working across the aisle. It serves as a stark reminder that Watergate could have easily turned out very differently, and that the work of maintaining democracy is up to each and every American today. It discusses the reforms that came about in the aftermath of Watergate – and those that were short-lived.
“The Watergate Committee proceedings showed that Washington can work for the good of democracy, which is hard to maintain, and easy to lose,” said signatory Rufus L. Edmisten, Deputy Chief Counsel to the Watergate Committee and Former Attorney General and Secretary of State for North Carolina, reflecting on the importance of this statement ahead of the anniversary event.
Other notable signatories include Watergate special prosecutors Jill Wine-Banks and Richard Ben-Veniste, the Senate Watergate Committee’s assistant chief counsel James Hamilton, former U.S. congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, current congresswoman Deborah Ross of North Carolina, and renowned broadcast journalist Connie Chung. It is also signed by several distinguished academics and historians of the Nixon era. It is the first time the original Watergate group has publicly aligned around a single perspective on Watergate.
The historic statement will be housed on a new web site that is being launched today, Watergate.org. The site is a special project dedicated to educating the public about the complicated processes of holding to account the occupant of the highest political office in America. Watergate.org serves as a resource for exploring how these issues may play out, past, present and in the future. The site is managed by former Watergate staffers.
The week will culminate in a special reunion event this Friday, June 17th, from 5:00 to 7:30pm, with over 200 attendees from the original Watergate Senate Select Committee, House Committee on the Judiciary, Special Prosecutor’s staff, and members of the press and political offices. The event will be held in the Kennedy Caucus Room, the site of the original Senate Select Committee hearings in 1973.
By Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Jesse H. Choper Distinguished Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley School of Law. President of American Association of Law Schools, 2022.
“Fifty years after Watergate, democracy faces serious threats in the United States and across the world. The events preceding and culminating in the insurrection on January 6 were unprecedented in American history. Authoritarian regimes have come to power in many countries. Now, more than ever, reflecting on what worked during Watergate – and which reforms are still needed - is crucial.
A persistent, thorough, and impartial investigation led to the resignation of President Nixon and the prosecution and conviction of many others. But it is easy to forget that the Watergate scandal easily could have come out differently and that the country and its commitment to the rule of law would have been irreparably damaged.
During Watergate, it took all of the branches of government to uncover what happened and to pursue justice. Hearings in the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities and debates on the articles of impeachment by the House Committee on the Judiciary were crucial in presenting essential information to the public about what took place and educating Americans about the complicated process of impeachment and whether or not it was warranted. The work of the Special Prosecutors and their staffs, especially under the leadership of Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski, exemplified the importance of impartial investigations and prosecutions. The courts, particularly federal district court Judge John Sirica and the United States Supreme Court in its unanimous ruling in United States v. Nixon, upheld the Constitution.
We also saw during Watergate the importance of a free press. It was the press that helped uncover the links between the Watergate break-in and the Campaign to Reelect the President. And it was the dogged efforts of the press that revealed the cover-up and live gavel-to-gavel television coverage of congressional hearings that helped inform the public and turn public opinion about the Watergate cover-up. Although it would be a mistake to say that this was bipartisan at all stages, there was cooperation across the political aisle and a shared commitment to upholding the rule of law. One must wonder what would have happened if Watergate occurred in our deeply politically polarized time.
The aftermath brought many needed reforms in government. The scandal revealed the need for campaign finance reform, for responsible independent prosecutors when there are allegations of misconduct at the highest levels of government, and for greater transparency through the disclosure of government records. Unfortunately, some of these reforms were short-lived. For example, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional some key aspects of the federal laws reforming campaign finance.
Ultimately, democracy depends on the rule of law. And the rule of law requires a concerted effort to continue to ensure that no one ever is above the law. The critical work of upholding our democracy continues today in the wake of January 6, and every American has a role to play in the process.”
Signed in support:
Note: This list will be updated at www.watergate.org.
Elizabeth Holtzman, former U.S. Congresswoman and House Committee on the Judiciary member during Watergate Congresswoman
Deborah K. Ross, North Carolina, 2nd Congressional District Connie Chung, Network Television Journalist
Rufus L. Edmisten, Deputy Chief Counsel to the Watergate Committee, and Former Attorney General and Secretary of State for North Carolina
James Hamilton, Assistant Chief Counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee, author of forthcoming book on Watergate and other Washington scandals
Michael Hershman, Former Senior Investigator, Senate Watergate Committee, and President of the Fairfax Group
Marc E. Lackritz, Former Assistant Counsel, Senate Watergate Committee
Mark J. Biros, Assistant Majority Counsel
Donald S. Burris, Assistant Counsel to the United States Senate Watergate Committee
Jill Wine-Banks, Special Prosecutor during Watergate, Author, and MSNBC legal analyst
Richard Ben-Veniste, Special Prosecutor during Watergate
Henry L. Hecht, Former Assistant Special Prosecutor, Watergate Special Prosecution Force (June 1973 to December 1975), Current Herma Hill Kay Continuing Lecturer in Residence, University of California, Berkeley School of Law
E. Jeffrey Banchero, Former Research Assistant, Impeachment Inquiry, House Committee on the Judiciary. Transcribed tapes of presidential conversations
Professor Mark Feldstein, Author and Richard Eaton Chair on Broadcast Journalism at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism
Jon Marshall, Associate Professor, Medill School, Northwestern University. Author of Clash: Presidents and the Press in Times of Crisis and Watergate’s Legacy and the Press: The Investigative Impulse
David Greenberg, Professor of History, Rutgers University and author of Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image
Laura Kalman, Distinguished Research Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara Jeremi Suri, Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs, Professor of History and Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin
David M. Kennedy, Stanford University Claire Potter, Professor of History, The New School for Social Research
Dr. Peniel E. Joseph, Barbara Jordan Chair in Ethics and Political Values, Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, and Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin
Gordon Freedman, Former Staff Assistant, Senate Watergate Committee, author of Chapter III of Committee Final Report, former journalist and filmmaker
Bruce Quan, Majority Research Staff Assistant, Senate Watergate Committee
Elisabeth Hair DeMarse, Former Staff, Senate Watergate Committee
G. Allen Dale, Research Assistant, Senate Watergate Committee, political consultant for Democratic candidates, author, and criminal defense attorney
Martha Talley, Research Assistant, Senate Watergate Committee
Carol Anne Wiik Cooke, former Senate Watergate Committee, former Senate Intelligence Committee, former Congressional Correspondent CNN
Donald M. Stanford, Jr.; Senate Watergate Committee Majority Staff Assistant (and Researcher); Professor of Law, University of North Carolina
Michael Frisch, Research Assistant for the Senate Watergate Committee
David W. Erdman, Majority Research Staff Assistant, Senate Watergate Committee
Judi Dash, Journalist and daughter of Sam Dash, Chief Counsel, Senate Watergate Committee
Lot Cooke, former staff on the Senate Church Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, attorney
Nancy Story Kilpatrick, Computer Research Assistant, Senate Watergate Committee