Peter Wallace Rodino, Jr. (born 1909) was a Democratic member of the House of Representatives, first elected from New Jersey's 10th Congressional District in 1948 and finally retiring in 1988. He was chair of the House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee during two historic events: when it held hearings on the confirmation of Gerald Ford as vice president in 1973 and when it approved three articles of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon in 1974.
Peter Wallace Rodino, Jr. was born June 7, 1909, in Newark, New Jersey, a city that was his life-long home base. His parents were Peter and Margaret (Gerard) Rodino. A product of the local schools, he graduated from the New Jersey School of Law (which later became Rutgers University), earning the LL.B. degree in 1937. He was admitted to the New Jersey State Bar shortly thereafter and practiced law in Newark.
Rodino volunteered for military service during World War II in 1941. He served with the First Armored Division in North Africa and Italy. Rodino was one of the first enlisted men to be commissioned as an officer overseas. He was discharged as a captain in 1946. Rodino received the Bronze Star and other decorations, including some from the Republic of Italy.
Rodino's long legislative career began in 1948, when he won election to the House of Representatives from New Jersey's 10th Congressional District, which included most of Newark and parts of surrounding counties. He had first sought that office in 1946, at which time he was narrowly defeated. He was reelected over 20 times and became the dean of the New Jersey congressional delegation.
In Congress Rodino was active in sponsoring and working for many important laws. He was in the forefront of civil rights legislation (especially open housing and voting rights), immigration matters, and making Columbus Day and Martin Luther King's birthday national holidays. Generally, Rodino had a liberal voting record, but he voted for law and order measures and against government aid for abortions. He opposed constitutional amendments to ban abortion and busing and to restore school prayer. He was an assistant to the majority whip of the House between 1965 and 1972.
The congressman was appointed to the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives, having first served on the Veterans Affairs Committee. Rodino became chair of the committee in January 1973. He headed the committee's hearings on the confirmation of Republican House Minority Leader Gerald Ford to be vice president in late 1973 (replacing the resigned Spiro Agnew). This was the first instance of filling a vacancy in that office under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment, ratified in 1967, provided for a president to nominate a vice president with the confirmation of a majority vote of both Houses of Congress. When Ford became president upon Nixon's resignation he named Nelson Rockefeller his successor. Rodino had to preside over the committee once again to hold confirmation hearings for the new vice-president during 1974.
As the Watergate affair cover-up came to be linked closer to the White House in 1973, members of Congress began to call for the impeachment of President Nixon. Impeachment is the process of removing a president from office by a majority vote of the House, followed by a two-thirds vote of the Senate in agreement. The task of an impeachment inquiry was assigned to the Judiciary Committee in late October 1973.
During the first half of 1974 the committee moved slowly and cautiously as evidence was sought. Effort was spent on trying to obtain copies of relevant tapes of conversations discovered to have been secretly recorded in the presidential offices. These were sought to show whether or not Nixon was involved in any cover-up or obstruction of justice activities related to the Watergate break-in.
Getting the tapes was not an easy task. Having been refused its request for specific tapes by the White House, the committee took an unprecedented action to issue a subpoena to the president on April 11. The group of tapes were released within a few weeks. The tapes and accompanying transcripts were rejected by the committee as containing deletions and inaccuracies. Additional material was subpoenaed three more times by the committee, but the president refused to comply. The White House claimed that it was an escalating invasion into the confidentiality of presidential conversation that would compromise the institution of the presidency.
The committee held closed meetings during late spring and early summer to consider evidence. Beginning July 24, 1974, the meetings were open and televised. On July 27 the committee voted for the first of three articles of impeachment against Nixon: obstruction of justice. On July 29 the second article was approved: misuse of power. And on July 30 the third was voted for: contempt of Congress by defying its subpoenas. The full House was set to start impeachment proceedings in mid-August. Nixon, facing certain impeachment and removal from office, resigned on August 9, 1974.
Rodino also served as Chairman of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration, Chairman of the Scientific and Technical Committee of the North Atlantic Assembly, and as Chairman of the Immigration and Nationality Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee.
Rodino received numerous awards in recognition of his civic duty from civil rights, religious, and ethnic organizations and many honors from various governments. Seventeen honorary degrees were conferred on him. He was nominated for the office of vice president at the 1972 Democratic National Convention and was considered for that position again in 1976. In 1988 he announced that he would not stand for re-election. In 1992 Seton Hall University Law School (Newark, NJ) named its law library after Rodino. The Peter W. Rodino, Jr. Law Library contains a collection of personal and public papers of Rodino, including materials related to the Watergate investigation, personal correspondence, and speeches.
Rodino married Marianna Stango, December 27, 1941. They had one daughter and one son.
There is no published book length biography of Rodino. For an incisive analysis of Rodino and the historic period during which he served, read Theodore H. White, Breach of Faith (1975). A descriptive account, showing Rodino's role, is in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, The Final Days (1976).