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WASHINGTON — On the morning of May 11, 1966, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White called FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s top assistant, Cartha “Deke” DeLoach, with a special request. Could he come by with friends for a special tour of FBI headquarters? The answer was an immediate yes, and early that afternoon, White showed up at the FBI’s D.C. headquarters with two of his law clerks and a college-aged male friend from California. The group toured the FBI Building for more than 90 minutes, and in a memo placed in White’s FBI file, White was described as “most congenial throughout,” and “quite interested in firearms.” The memo was one of dozens released this month by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act filed after White’s death on April 15, 2002. Under the law, most privacy considerations that keep the government from disclosing FBI files during a person’s life fall away upon death. Included in the file are new details about a man who assaulted White in 1982 in Salt Lake City as White was about to give a speech — the first assault on a Supreme Court justice in nearly a century. Another memo provides new information about White’s hospitalization in 1962, when he was deputy attorney general in Robert Kennedy’s Justice Department. But mainly the file chronicles the occasional contacts between White and the FBI, a relationship that evolved into a cordial, routine friendship between White and Director Hoover. When Hoover died in 1972, White was the only associate justice to join Chief Justice Warren Burger at Hoover’s funeral. “It wasn’t a specially close friendship,” recalls White’s biographer Dennis Hutchinson, law professor at the University of Chicago. “But Hoover was very careful to keep good relations with people like Justice White.” In and of itself, the 1966 special tour of the FBI Building is unremarkable, matched by several other family tours mentioned in the file and dozens of other small favors that Hoover and his aides showered on top officials — including Supreme Court justices — of all stripes. It was all part of Hoover’s unrelenting campaign to curry favor with, and keep tabs on, those in power, says Alexander Charns, a Durham, N.C., lawyer who wrote the 1992 book “Cloak and Gavel” on the relationship between the FBI and the Supreme Court. Charns has seen the FBI file on White. “It was the same public relations brown-nosing machine that Hoover carried out so well,” says Charns. There were numerous times when Hoover needed friends on the high court, Charns contends, and May 1966 was one of them, making White’s tour of the FBI that month especially significant. The FBI’s eavesdropping practices were under increasing scrutiny at the time, and a pending case involving lobbyist Fred Black Jr. brought the Supreme Court into the controversy. Black, a business associate of disgraced Lyndon Johnson aide Bobby Baker, was fighting his conviction on tax-evasion charges. In his petition to the Supreme Court, Black claimed among other things that the government had coerced his lawyer into betraying confidences in the case. The court routinely denied review in the case on May 2, 1966, but then-Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall had more to say on the issue. It had come to his attention that in the course of its investigation, the FBI had bugged Black’s hotel room and office in 1963. During the surveillance, the FBI overheard some conversations between Black and his lawyers. Marshall wanted to inform the court of the new information as a sort of “confession of error” in which the government tells the justices about incorrect or improper handling of a case. Hoover, according to FBI documents obtained by Charns, vehemently opposed Marshall’s plan to tell the court about the bugging. The embarrassing information, Hoover feared, would hurt him in ongoing FBI-Justice Department turf wars. Marshall informed the Supreme Court anyway in a highly unusual filing on May 24, prompting the justices on June 13 to order the government to detail the surveillance of Black. But in issuing the order, the court noted that White recused. In a separate letter to White, according to Charns’ book, Marshall reminded the justice that he had received a letter from Hoover about the FBI’s surveillance policies while serving as deputy AG. Hoover had sent a copy of the memo to Marshall. Since those policies were now at issue, White — a likely Hoover critic in the dispute, in Charns’ view — took himself out of the Black case. While not accusing White of wrongdoing, Charns thinks that White’s visit to the FBI Building would have been viewed by the FBI as an important plus, in light of the controversy over the Black case. “To have a Supreme Court justice visit the FBI Building while Hoover was being blamed for illegal surveillance was a coup,” says Charns. “Any litigant would love to have that access.” The 1966 tour was not White’s first visit to the FBI Building, according to the file. In 1961, soon after becoming deputy attorney general, White asked Hoover aide DeLoach whether he could work out at the FBI’s gymnasium. “He asked if he would be thrown out if he went down on occasions to use this gym,” DeLoach reported in a memo. “I told him that classes were going on quite constantly, however I felt the Director would naturally want him to go down at his convenience.” A handwritten addendum at the bottom of the memo, scrawled by Hoover himself, orders, “Extend every courtesy.” The next memo in the file reported that two weeks later, Kennedy, White and their wives made an unannounced visit to the basement gymnasium. The two asked again about working out there in the future, and they were assured that special lockers would be assigned to them. “In departing, the attorney general indicated that he and his deputy would probably bring their gym equipment down tomorrow for storage in lockers to be made available to them,” the memo reports. But in the case of White, the former All-American football star at the University of Colorado, any kind of extended fitness program was derailed a month later when White, then 43, was hospitalized with what news reports described as “gastritis.” A March 2, 1961, memorandum in White’s FBI file indicates that based on the reports of White’s aides, his condition was “more serious than originally believed. The doctors have diagnosed his case as involving bleeding ulcers. Obviously Mr. White is not going to be able to return to active duty in the near future.” Hoover sent White a get-well note, and the illness is not mentioned again, except in an October 1961 cable from the FBI’s Albuquerque, N.M., field office. White had informed the office that he was visiting the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque for a two-day checkup, but wanted no appointments and no publicity. White’s brother Clayton was director of research at the clinic, and biographer Hutchinson says White visited the clinic often. The most extensive section of the White FBI file details the investigation into the bizarre Salt Lake City episode in 1982, in which White was punched repeatedly by a man while attending a public luncheon of the Utah Bar Association. Though his name is blocked out in the FBI file, news reports and subsequent prosecution identified White’s assailant as Newton Estes, 57, a local resident who had long-standing grievances against Hollywood and the television networks for running what he thought were obscene and pornographic images. Estes had written the FBI two years before, objecting to the airing of the movie “Annie Hall” on television. In 1976, it was also revealed, Estes had written a threatening letter to then-Solicitor General Robert Bork. He also wrote a letter in 1969 to Justice William O. Douglas in which he said he would hold justices “personally and physically answerable” if his daughter was ever molested by someone who had watched a “Supreme Court-licensed pornographic movie.” On the morning of July 15, 1982, Estes approached White as he was being introduced to speak at the Salt Lake City event. Estes punched White three times, each time shouting the words “filth” or “pornography.” He was immediately restrained by attendees nearby, including then-CBS News correspondent Fred Graham, who was also scheduled to speak to the bar group. In his 1990 book “Happy Talk,” Graham recounted the episode, describing White as a “tough cookie, a former all-pro halfback with a neck like a tree trunk and a head like a rock. He just sat there with a long-suffering scowl, giving every impression that he could have risen up and flattened the man if it had been appropriate.” Even as Estes was being restrained, Graham asked him, with cameras rolling, why he had assaulted White. Estes said White was “causing four-letter words to come into my living room through the TV set.” The accusation struck Graham as inappropriate since White had often voted against pornographers in First Amendment cases before the court. “The symbolism was all wrong,” Graham wrote. But, according to the FBI report on the episode, Estes had other complaints as well. When Estes was questioned by FBI agents in the basement of the hotel where the assault occurred, Estes said he was also angry at the Supreme Court because of its rulings on school busing. Years before, he had lived in Memphis, where busing was used to integrate schools. Estes said he had promised to seek “physical revenge” on high court justices if his daughter was ever injured in a racial incident at school. Estes also told the agents that in plotting the assault on White, he hoped to be arrested and use his subsequent trial as a platform to talk about pornography and busing. “He stated it was nothing personal against Justice White [and] that he would have assaulted all but about four of the Supreme Court justices to accomplish what he was trying to do.” Estes also told agents he purposely “did not hit Justice White enough to hurt him.” In December 1982, Estes was found guilty of assaulting White and was later sentenced to 10 days in jail and two years’ probation. Six years later, Hutchinson notes, Estes pleaded guilty to a charge of molesting an 11-year-old girl. Charns says the 231-page file on White released by the FBI is incomplete, because it does not include cross-referenced materials about White in other files. Typically, those files could include more candid assessments by Hoover about the justice, Charns says. “What’s interesting is what is not in the file,” says Charns, who has filed an appeal to obtain the additional material. “There is more to the story.” Tony Mauro is Supreme Court correspondent for American Lawyer Media andThe Recorder’s Washington, D.C., affiliateLegal Times. His e-mail address is [email protected] .

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