A young man from Connecticut, John R. Downey, chose to attend the University of South Carolina over three decades ago, where he earned his master’s in 1975 and a law degree two years later. Downey met Strom Thurmond while in the Palmetto State, and came to admire the senator. Returning to Connecticut, Downey did well in his profession, and in 2001 was named a judge of the Superior Court.
On June 26, 2003 Thurmond died at age 100. His public life was long and extraordinary. Elected to the State Senate in 1932, he went on to serve as circuit court judge until America entered World War II. The returning war hero was elected governor of South Carolina in 1946, and ran for president as a third-party candidate in 1948, carrying four states. In 1954 the people sent him to the U.S. Senate on a write-in vote. Thurmond was elected to eight terms, served as chairman of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees, became President Pro Tempore, and for half a century was one of the most influential leaders in American political life.
According to court records, the morning after Thurmond’s death, Judge Downey, opening court for the day, praised Thurmond as “a great American,” one who “was able to see life and reality and grow” as he evolved from segregationist and who bettered race relations and helped appoint blacks to federal judgeships.
Now Downey, 56, is being considered for promotion to the Appellate Court, and his words of eulogy are coming under scrutiny. Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, claims that the judge’s praise of the “longtime segregationist” was “very inappropriate” and promises to make trouble for Downey.
Downey lauded the South Carolinian for changing his racial views. Legions of liberals, led by Senator Joe Biden at Thurmond’s funeral, have done the same thing. Lawlor’s critical attitude is bizarre, even for a New Englander.