Peter Rodino (D), a former Representative from New Jersey who chaired the Judiciary Committee during the Watergate investigation, died Saturday of congestive heart failure at his home in West Orange, N.J. He was 95.
Rodino, who represented a Newark district from 1949 to 1989, was best known for his involvement in the hearings leading up to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. In a February 1974 House vote, the Judiciary Committee was given subpoena powers — used to obtain the Oval Office tapes of Nixon conversing with aides — and also was granted permission to review grounds for impeachment.
Months later, the committee had prepared three articles of impeachment against Nixon. Two weeks after the panel approved the first article in late July, the president resigned before a full House vote took place on whether to approve the articles for a Senate trial.
Rodino, who had taken his post as chairman just a year before the hearings began, later said that the impeachment of Nixon “was the furthest thing from my mind. I was hopeful … that what we would find out was exculpatory.”
Beyond the Nixon investigation, Rodino prided himself for he support of veterans’ affairs and civil rights issues. He was a main sponsor of the Civil Rights Act of 1966 and wrote the extension to the Voting Rights Act in 1982.
But the Newark native used his newfound recognizability from the Nixon hearings to ward off attempts to unseat him in his district. Facing pressure to retire throughout the 1980s, Rodino finally succumbed to those who wanted him out and did not seek re-election in 1988. He was succeeded by Donald Payne (D), who became New Jersey’s first black Representative.
“I am always aware of what a great honor it is to be his successor in Congress,” said Payne, who added that he was inspired by Rodino to enter public service. “While [Rodino] earned a national reputation for handling the Watergate hearings with fairness, decorum, and a respect for history, he was also a champion of civil rights and a skilled legislator who never forgot where he came from. He will be remembered by the people of New Jersey for his diligence and dedication to public service.”
Rodino received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Newark and graduated from what would become Rutgers University Law School in 1937. The New Jersey House Member also served in World War II and was discharged from the Army as a captain in 1946 after receiving the Bronze Star.
After leaving the House, Rodino taught at Seton Hall University School of Law in his home town. The university currently houses Rodino’s papers and memorabilia, including the desk and gavel he used during the Watergate hearings.
Rodino’s first wife, Marianna Stango Rodino, died in 1980. He is survived by his second wife, Joy Rodino; two children; three granddaughters; and two great-granddaughters.