Here’s the story of Justice (and former U.S. Congressman) Richard Poff who died on Tuesday at the age of 96.
H/T to an excellent post by Mason Conservative on this subject.
Prior to the War, Virginia politics was dominated by the Byrd Organization at the county, state and Federal level. All power accrued to the rural courthouses, due to the lopsided allocation of representation. U.S. Senator Byrd controlled this system through the Democratic party and maintained a conservative philosophy (with some exceptions) that dominated all aspects of Virginia governance.
In 1952, Byrd used his “golden silence” to propel Eisenhower to victory in Virginia, the first Republican to ever carry the Commonwealth. Unexpectedly, Eisenhower’s coattails also brought in three Republican Congressmen, including Poff in the 6th Congressional district. (It also brought in Joel Broyhill of the new 10th district in Arlington). These were the first cracks in the Democratic one-party machine.
It was bound to happen. After the War, the suburbs began to gain population and eventually power. Veterans coming home from the War were less beholden to the older interests. New politicians sprang up on the right and left to challenge the Byrd machine.
By the mid 1960′s, with the collapse of “massive resistance” and the adoption of “one man, one vote,” the death knell was sounding for the Byrd machine. In the 1966 election, the Democratic primary saw the election of Bill Spong of Norfolk, who was the first “liberal” to hold office since the Re-adjuster Movement in the 1870′s.
As for Poff, he held his seat for twenty years before retiring and joining the Virginia Supreme Court in 1972, where he authored several notable opinions. The Federal courthouse in Roanoke is named after him (I made my first court appearances there in 1993 as a third-year law student practicing with the U.S. Attorney).
Poff has been one of many Supreme Court justices that have died this year. He lived a life that spanned several generations in Virginia and saw its maturation as a true democracy.