Rodino’s Widow Recalls His Love of Constitution

Posted August 25, 2009 at 11:01pm

Joy Rodino kept seeing missed opportunities for others to pay tribute to her husband, former Rep. Peter Rodino (D-N.J.). A book contract he got after retiring in 1989 went unfulfilled, and other authors who considered writing about his eventful political career didn’t follow through.

Rodino continued to believe her husband’s contributions warranted a book. After all, he served as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee during impeachment hearings for President Richard Nixon. His face appeared on the covers of Time and Newsweek magazines, and he was known for his love of the Preamble of the Constitution, often invoking it in speeches.

Rodino discussed the lack of a literary tribute with an author friend one day at lunch before her husband’s death in 2005, and the friend made a valuable suggestion.

“Why don’t you just write a little book just about his love of the Preamble?— Rodino recalled the friend asking. “And it was one of those a-ha’ moments.—

“Fifty-Two Words My Husband Taught Me: Love, Inspiration and the Constitution— is Rodino’s take on her husband’s legacy. It’s 80 pages long, including a preface, an acknowledgements section, several photo pages and a bibliography. Each chapter’s title is part of the Preamble, beginning with “We the People of the United States, in Order to Form a More Perfect Union— and concluding with “Secure the Blessings of Liberty to Ourselves and Our Posterity.— Rodino spoke to her husband about his love of the Preamble and filled in her own notes with transcriptions from his talks with a professor.

“During his career, Peter interacted with presidents, popes, kings and queens, but he remained first and foremost a man of the people,— she wrote, recalling the Congressman’s Newark, N.J., upbringing and his time in the Army during World War II.

Rodino first met the Congressman when she worked as his executive assistant early in her career. They maintained only a casual relationship when she left for law school and got back in touch decades later after the death of his first wife, she said. They built on a mutual respect then and eventually got married. She was 48; he was 80.

“When I sort of reconnected with him, there was all of a sudden … a spark there,— she recalled. “It was an interesting process, I’ll put it that way.—

Rodino said her husband would have approved of the election of President Barack Obama and the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. In addition, he “always really looked up to Sen. [Edward] Kennedy,— she said, and the Massachusetts Democrat contributed the glowing quote on the book’s cover. Yet he didn’t approve of every way Congress has progressed.

“He was really concerned about the shift in partisanship and the lack of bipartisanship that has happened over the years,— she said. Rodino’s first big move in the Nixon impeachment hearings was to choose Republican John Doar as chief counsel, and he strived to keep the committee united. Sensitive to public opinion as he investigated a president of the opposite party, Rodino wrote a resolution that “explicitly authorizing the Judiciary Committee to conduct the impeachment inquiry and to provide the committee with the power of subpoena,— she wrote.

“Against all precedents, the resolution provided that the chairman and the ranking minority member would share the authority to issue subpoenas, a move intended to underscore the bipartisan spirit in which Peter intended to conduct the inquiry.—

Joy Rodino, who today works as a lawyer representing a county welfare agency in child support hearings in New Jersey, makes a good point that her husband’s legacy deserves a book. This recollection succeeds if it inspires another book with a deeper level of research from an unbiased political scholar.

Copies of “Fifty-Two Words My Husband Taught Me— are available online at peterrodino.com.