[He called West Virginia] “one of the rock bottomest of states.”...
Mr. Byrd was the valedictorian of his high school class but was unable to afford college. It was not until he was in his 30s and 40s that he took college courses. But he was profoundly self-educated and well read. His Senate speeches sparkled with citations from Shakespeare, the King James version of the Bible and the histories of England, Greece and Rome....Referring to the Line-Item Veto Act, he said:
“Gaius Julius Caesar did not seize power in Rome,” he said. Rather, he said, “the Roman Senate thrust power on Caesar deliberately, with forethought, with surrender, with intent to escape from responsibility.”The Supreme Court later found the act unconstitutional, a violation of Separation of Powers, though not in the first case it considered on the subject. The first case, which bore Senator Byrd's name — Raines v. Byrd — was rejected for lack of standing. The members of Congress who brought suit were held not to have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the bill Congress had passed because it caused "no injury to themselves as individuals." The obituary doesn't mention this case.
Back to the obituary:
In 2007, at the unveiling of a portrait of Mr. Byrd in the Old Senate Chamber, former Senator Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland, a colleague of 30 years, recalled that Mr. Byrd had taught him how to answer when a constituent asked, “How many presidents have you served under?”I hope every member of Congress would answer that way.
“None,” was Mr. Byrd’s reply, Mr. Sarbanes said. “I have served with presidents, not under them.”
In the early 1940s, he organized a 150-member klavern, or chapter, of the Klan in Sophia, W.Va., and was chosen its leader at a meeting. After the meeting, Joel L. Baskin, the Klan’s grand dragon for the region, suggested that Mr. Byrd use his “talents for leadership” by going into politics.So old that his mother died in the flu epidemic of 1917.
“Suddenly, lights flashed in my mind!” Mr. Byrd later wrote. “Someone important had recognized my abilities.”...
His opponents used his Klan membership against him during his first run for the House of Representatives in 1952; Democratic leaders urged him to drop out of the race. But he stayed in and won, then spent decades apologizing for what he called a “sad mistake.”
He went on to vote for civil rights legislation in 1957 and 1960, but when the more sweeping Civil Rights Act was before Congress in 1964, he filibustered for an entire night against it, saying the measure was an infringement on states’ rights. He backed civil rights legislation consistently only after becoming a party leader in the Senate....
Mr. Byrd was born Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr. on Nov. 20, 1917, in North Wilkesboro, N.C. His mother died the next year in the influenza epidemic, but before she did, she asked his father to give him to a sister and brother-in-law. They adopted him and renamed him Robert Carlyle Byrd, then moved to rural West Virginia.
As a boy, living on a small farm, he helped slaughter hogs, learned to play the fiddle and became a prize-winning Sunday school student after the manager of the local coal company store gave him two pairs of socks so he could attend without embarrassment.I don't think Congress monkeying with the curriculum of public schools is very respectful of the Constitution. Ironically. That's especially bad coming from someone who presented his opposition to the Civil Rights Act as a matter of states rights.
In 1937, Mr. Byrd married Erma Ora James, his high school sweetheart. She died in 2006, after 68 years of marriage....
He was never a particularly partisan Democrat. President Richard M. Nixon briefly considered him for a Supreme Court appointment. Mr. Dole recalled an occasion when Mr. Byrd gave him advice on a difficult parliamentary question; the help enabled Mr. Dole to overcome Mr. Byrd on a particular bill....
Mr. Byrd always carried a copy of the Constitution. He said his second-proudest accomplishment was legislation requiring every educational institution receiving federal aid to observe the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution on Sept. 17 by teaching students about it.
When the Senate was struggling to agree on rules for the impeachment trial of Mr. Clinton in 1999, Mr. Byrd warned that the Senate itself was also on trial.A body of toads, hopping up and down and over one another to please the imperious countenance of an all-powerful president.
“The White House has sullied itself,” he said, “and the House has fallen into a black pit of partisanship and self-indulgence. The Senate is teetering on the brink of that same black pit.”
When, in 2005, Republicans considered banning the filibuster on judicial nominations, he warned that such an action would change the “nature of the Senate by destroying the right of free speech it has enjoyed since its creation.”
In “Losing America,” he wrote that the Senate without the filibuster “will no longer be a body of equals.”
“It will, instead, have become a body of toads,” he wrote, “hopping up and down and over one another to please the imperious countenance of an all-powerful president.”
Now, how will his seat be filled? It appears that, under West Virginia law, because the vacancy has occurred before July 3rd, there will be an election this year. If Byrd had survived until this Saturday, the Governor would have appointed his replacement, and that person would have continued in office until 2012.