Samuel James "Sam" Ervin Jr. (September 27, 1896 – April 23, 1985) was a Democratic Senator from North Carolina from 1954 until 1974. A native of Morganton, Burke County, North Carolina, he liked to call himself a "country lawyer", and often told humorous stories in his Southern drawl. Between 1954 and 1974, Ervin was the most talented legal defender of the Jim Crow laws and racial segregation, as the South's constitutional expert during the congressional debates on civil rights. Unexpectedly, he became a liberal hero for his support of civil liberties. He is remembered for his work in the investigation committees that brought down Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954 and especially his investigation in 1972 of the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation in 1974 of President Richard Nixon.
Ervin served in the US Army in combat in France during World War I, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts. He graduated from the University of North Carolina, where he was a member of The Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies, in 1917 and from Harvard Law School in 1922. Ervin was fond of joking that he was the only student ever to go through Harvard Law "backwards," because he took the third-year courses first, then the second-year courses, and finally the first-year courses.
Already admitted to the bar in 1919, before completing law school (later calling himself "a simple country lawyer"), Ervin entered politics straight out of Harvard. Even before he had received his degree, Democrats in Burke County, North Carolina had nominated him in absentia for the North Carolina House of Representatives, to which he was elected in 1922, 1924, and 1930. Ervin was also elected and served as a state judge in the late 1930s and early 1940s.