William Ruckelshaus

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Person.png William Ruckelshaus   SourcewatchRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(lawyer, spook)
William Ruckelshaus.jpg
BornWilliam Doyle Ruckelshaus
Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.
Alma materPrinceton University, Harvard Law School
Member ofCouncil on Foreign Relations/Historical Members, Trilateral Commission
US Environmental Protection Agency leader, then lobbyist for Monsanto.

Employment.png United States Deputy Attorney General Wikipedia-icon.png

In office
July 9, 1973 - October 20, 1973

Employment.png Acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

In office
April 30, 1973 - July 9, 1973
Preceded byL. Patrick Gray
Succeeded byClarence Kelley

Employment.png Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division

In office
January 20, 1969 - December 4, 1970

William Doyle Ruckelshaus (July 24, 1932 – November 27, 2019) was an American attorney and government official.

Ruckelshaus was the first Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1970 to 1973. He later served as acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and then as US Deputy Attorney General. In October 1973, in what became known as the "Saturday Night Massacre," Ruckelshaus, along with US Attorney General Elliot Richardson, resigned from their positions, rather than obey the order of US President Richard Nixon to fire the independent special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, who was tasked with investigating Nixon's role in the Watergate scandal.

Ruckelshaus later returned as EPA administrator from 1983 to 1985.

Early life, military service, and education

Ruckelshaus was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on July 24, 1932, the son of Marion Doyle (née Covington) and John K. Ruckelshaus.[1] He was from a distinguished family with a long history of practicing law in Indianapolis and serving in Republican Party politics.[2]

He attended parochial schools until the age of 16, then finished high school in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, at the Portsmouth Abbey School.

He began college at Princeton University before being drafted[3] and serving for two years in the United States Army, becoming a drill sergeant at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington.[4] He left the Army in 1955, returning to and graduating from Princeton with an A.B. (cum laude) in history in 1957 after completing a senior thesis titled "American Attitudes toward the Spanish Civil War."[5] In 1960 he earned an LL.B. from Harvard Law School and joined the family law firm in Indianapolis.[6]

In 1960, Ruckelshaus married Ellen Urban, who died the following year from complications incurred after giving birth to their twin daughters. In 1962 he remarried, to Jill Strickland, with whom he had three children.[7]

His brother was John C. Ruckelshaus and his nephew was John Ruckelshaus; they also served in the Indiana General Assembly.[8]


"He ran in 1964 as a moderate Republican for an Indiana Congressional seat, but lost in the primaries to a candidate from the Conservative wing of the party. Following a year as Minority Attorney for the State Senate, he joined the Republican tidal wave in the Indiana House of Representatives and won a seat; more than that, he became Majority Leader in his first term. Clearly a rising political star, Ruckelshaus was nominated by his party in 1968 to oppose Democrat Birch Bayh in a U.S. Senate race. Bayh won the election.

"William Ruckelshaus then entered a period of federal service in which he held a series of important administrative positions. He was called to Washington at the start of President Richard Nixon's first term and assumed the duties of Assistant U.S. Attorney General for the Civil Division, overseeing all civil litigation involving the federal government. Meantime, in spring 1970, rumors circulated in Washington that the president's Executive Council on Reorganization--which was reviewing all aspects of executive branch structure for the new Administration--would recommend the unification of federal environmental activity in a single governmental institution.

One week after the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, the council urged Mr. Nixon to form an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The president approved the suggestion and initiated the planning process in the White House. While the first by-product, known as Reorganization Plan Number 3, underwent congressional scrutiny during summer 1970, many names vied as candidates for EPA Administrator. William Ruckelshaus was mentioned often and his boss, Attorney General John Mitchell, broached the matter with him. About one month after Ruckelshaus confirmed his willingness to serve, Mitchell nominated him to the president, who accepted him for the position.

"William Ruckelshaus held the office of administrator from the agency's first day of operation on December 4, 1970, until April 30, 1973. In two and one-half years, he laid the foundation for EPA by hiring its leaders, defining its mission, deciding priorities, and selecting an organizational structure. But as the Watergate scandal broke in successive waves over the Nixon administration, it finally affected the EPA as well. During the cabinet reshuffling following the resignations of White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman and Domestic Affairs Advisor John Ehrlichman, Ruckelshaus's success at EPA and well-known integrity made him a likely candidate for one of the openings. He agreed to leave the EPA and serve as Acting FBI Director.

Soon, however, newly-appointed Attorney General Elliott Richardson invited him to be his Deputy at the Justice Department. He accepted, but this assignment also proved short-lived. When the president demanded that Richardson fire Special Watergate Prosecutor Archibald Cox, the Attorney General chose instead to resign. William Ruckelshaus was then ordered to remove Cox, but joined Richardson in quitting the Administration. Acting Attorney General Robert Bork finally dismissed Cox, who together with Richardson and Ruckelshaus became known as the victims of the October 1973 "Saturday Night Massacre."

"During the next decade, William Ruckelshaus chose a quieter life outside government service. Late in 1973 he joined the Washington law firm of Ruckelshaus, Beveridge, Fairbanks, and Diamond. Two years later, he and his wife and five children moved to Seattle, Washington, where he accepted a position as Senior Vice President of the Weyerhaeuser Company. The family lived happily there, not expecting to return to the trials of Washington, D.C.

"But during President Ronald Reagan's first term, Ruckelshaus observed increasing turmoil at EPA. When the deterioration became clear to the public, the same qualities of forthrightness which led him away from EPA during the Watergate scandal, drew him back ten years later. In spring 1983, White House Chief of Staff James Baker asked him to return to the agency. Intent on restoring the institution he had founded 13 years before, Ruckelshaus overcame his own and his family's resistance, on the condition the White House allow him maximum autonomy in the choice of new appointees.

"Between May 15, 1983, and February 7, 1985, Administrator William Ruckelshaus attempted to win back public confidence in the EPA. It proved to be a difficult period, in which a skeptical press and a wary Congress scrutinized all aspects of the agency's activities and interpreted many of its actions in the worst possible light. Yet when Ruckelshaus left EPA, he did so with a sense of satisfaction. He had filled the top-level positions with persons of competence, turned the attention of the staff back to the mission, and raised the esteem of the agency in the public mind. He returned to private life at the start of President Reagan's second term, joining the Seattle law firm of Perkins and Coie. Three years later, he assumed the roles of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Browning Ferris Industries of Houston, Texas." [9]

"After his second stint at the agency he formed a consulting firm called William D. Ruckelshaus Associates, which was then hired by the Coalition on Superfund, an organization seeking to weaken the Superfund law by absolving polluters of strict legal liability for their actions. The coalition included such Superfund polluters and their insurers as Monsanto, Occidental Petroleum, Alcoa, Flow Chemical, AT&T, du Pont, Union Carbide, Aetna Insurance, and Travelers Insurance. Assisting Ruckelshaus were Lee Thomas, his hand-picked successor as EPA administrator, and William Reilly, then head of the Conservation Foundation. (Ruckelshaus and Thomas helped fund Reilly's organization to produce studies in support of the coalition's position.)" [10]

United Airlines Flight 553

The FBI denied that they had any involvement in the aftermath of United Airlines Flight 553 until Ruckelshaus became temporary director, when they admitted that they had sent about 50 agents were on the scene.[11]


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  1. https://books.google.com/books?id=4XNtwLEbl7wC&q=%22John+K.+and+Marion+(Doyle)+Covington+Ruckelshaus%22
  2. https://web.archive.org/web/20191127192448/https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-11-27/william-ruckelshaus-nixon-nemesis-who-headed-epa-dies-at-87
  3. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/william-d-ruckelshaus-who-refused-to-join-in-nixons-saturday-night-massacre-dies-at-87/2019/11/27/e089e474-113a-11ea-bf62-eadd5d11f559_story.html
  4. https://www.latimes.com/obituaries/story/2019-11-27/ruckelshaus-who-defied-nixon-in-watergate-firing-dies
  5. https://catalog.princeton.edu/catalog/dsp012n49t353b%7Clanguage=en
  6. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/william-d-ruckelshaus-who-refused-to-join-in-nixons-saturday-night-massacre-dies-at-87/2019/11/27/e089e474-113a-11ea-bf62-eadd5d11f559_story.html
  7. http://www.historylink.org/File/20579
  8. http://legdb.iga.in.gov/#!/legislator/5006/John-Ruckelshaus
  9. http://www.epa.gov/history/publications/ruck/02.htm
  10. http://pwp.lincs.net/sanjour/Sierra.htm
  11. http://spartacus-educational.com/JFKhuntH.htm
  12. Directors, Long Live the Kings, accessed December 11, 2007.
  13. Leadership, Initiative for Global Development, accessed December 11, 2007.
  14. Advisory Board, William D. Ruckelshaus Center, accessed December 11, 2007.
  15. Strategic Directors, Madrona Investment Group, accessed December 11, 2007.
  16. Trustees, Urban Institute, accessed August 29, 2008.
  17. Corporate Council, The Conservation Fund, accessed May 9, 2010.
  18. Directors, American Council for Capital Formation, accessed May 9, 2010.
  19. Century Foundation Past Trustees, organizational web page, accessed October 1, 2012.