Richard Nixon photo

Remarks to Members of the National Institute of Municipal Law Officers.

April 08, 1970

I VERY MUCH appreciate this opportunity to welcome the Institute of Municipal Law Officers to the White House.

As you know, you are going to have a tour, and I have just decided that if we can work it into the schedule, that we are going to give you a little added dividend today. If you would like, after my very brief greetings, I am going to go back in the Oval Office, which most tourists' don't get to see because I am usually working there; if you would like to come through, you might have an opportunity to do that. I do that, because as fellow lawyers, I want you to see how the lawyer in the White House works.

Just a couple of personal words: We, of course, have a number of opportunities to meet various groups that come to Washington. I think on the list today are 15 different groups, and we selected this one.

I personally selected it for two reasons. One, because Charlie Rhyne,1 as you probably know, and I were in law school together. He has been an intimate friend of mine. He was in my campaign in 1960 and 1968. He took a leave of absence from this organization, as well as from some of his other clients, in order to participate in those campaigns. We lost one and won one. That is pretty good, I would say and when I saw that Charlie was going to be here, I wanted the opportunity to meet his clients.

1 Charles S. Rhyne, General Counsel of the National Institute of Municipal Law Officers.

The second point is that I have something very much in common with you, other than the fact that we are of the same profession. Many, many years ago, before I ever thought of running for office-in fact, immediately after I finished law school in 1937--for a period of 5 years I was in Whittier, California, and I was the deputy city attorney of Whittier, California.

Now for those that hold the positions that you hold, deputy city attorney appears like a very low form of life--and it was, I can assure you. On the other hand, when people ask me about the difference in the lawyer in the White House and the deputy city attorney of Whittier, I can tell you that being deputy city attorney of Whittier posed problems which, while they don't make the headlines, were just as difficult.

I just finished, for example, a very important meeting of the National Security Council, in which we discussed the upcoming talks that are going to take place in Vienna between the United States and the Soviet Union on the limitation of strategic weapons. And we considered all of the various problems involved in our security and theirs, which would come up over these next months. And then I have to make a decision as to the guidance that will be given to our negotiators for those negotiations.

I am sure that some of you would naturally conclude, what an enormous responsibility and how difficult it must be to sit in that Oval Office and attempt to make the decision that is going to affect the lives of 200 million Americans for perhaps a generation, and also of billions of people on this earth, both in the free world and Communist world. Well, putting it in melodramatic terms, it is true, it is an enormously important decision.

But let me tell you about a decision, not nearly as important from the standpoint of all these hundreds of millions of people, but from the standpoint of an individual. As deputy city attorney, I can recall the kind of matters that came before us. They were matters that affected individuals. When you are there in the city attorney's office the individuals can get to you. You are right there where you cannot isolate yourself, as you can in this oval room.

I will never forget the terrible decision that I had to make on one occasion involving two neighbors in Whittier. I knew both of them and they came in for the interpretation of an ordinance with regard to whether or not an individual would be allowed to keep wild animals or any kind of animals on his property. And that was a time in Southern California when it was a fad--you know, we always have fads at various times in Southern California-but that was the time when there was the fad of homegrown minks. People grew minks in their backyards for commercial purposes. It didn't prove to be too profitable and I don't think anybody does it anymore. But I will never forget the complainant coming into the city attorney's office and she said, "You just can't even believe how terrible it is to live next to somebody who grows minks in the backyard." Because a mink looks very nice, if you can afford it, on a lady's back, but on the other hand, the mink as an animal is not a very attractive animal. They eat their young. They also, in the course of the night, will be squealing and, of course, there is a certain fragrance that evolves from any kind of animals grown in that way.

Well, finally, I had to make the decision that as far as the Whittier ordinance was concerned, minks were allowed at that time. The city council then passed another ordinance to be sure they were not allowed.

Now, I would not want to indicate by these rather facetious remarks that the problems you deal with involve simply the differences between neighbors. I know they are much more serious than that. I know that you have enormous responsibility, not only for civil problems, but for criminal problems in your cities. And I know, too, insofar as this great overriding problem of respect for law and law enforcement, while we will make decisions here that will provide leadership, that where the action is, is down in the cities and towns of America all over the Nation.

That is where the action is and that is why you have such an enormous responsibility. We want to back you up, back you up in your actions to restore a respect for law and also to have laws that deserve respect and law enforcement that deserves respect.

That is one of the reasons why I appreciated the opportunity to say this to you personally, the leaders of this Institute.

Now, with all that, I think it would be well if we discontinued the talking so that I could have the opportunity of meeting each of you in this office and you can see where we make decisions.

I don't decide about minks now, at least as far as whether they are going to be grown in the backyards of Washington. But we make other decisions. Just to put it in context, I realize that your decisions in their way can be just as trying, just as difficult--because they involve the contest between individuals as well as those of your neighbors and friends at home-they can be just as difficult as those that are made by the lawyer in the White House.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:10 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.

Richard Nixon, Remarks to Members of the National Institute of Municipal Law Officers. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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