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John Doar, Justice Dept. lawyer in civil rights battles, dies at 92

John Doar, a Republican lawyer who played a critical role in the U.S. Justice Department's support of the civil rights movement, died Tuesday of congestive heart failure at 92.

By Frances Burns
John Doar, Justice Dept. lawyer in civil rights battles, dies at 92
President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to lawyer John Doar during a ceremony in the East Room at the White House in Washington on May 29, 2012. UPI File/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo

NEW YORK, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- John Doar, a Republican lawyer who played a critical role in the U.S. Justice Department's support of the civil rights movement, has died.

Doar also served as chief counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during its investigation into the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.

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Doar's son, Robert, said he died Tuesday of congestive heart failure at age 92.

President Barack Obama awarded Doar the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, calling him "the face of the Justice Department in the segregated South." After learning of his death, the president released a statement praising Doar's work and summarizing his activities in the 1960s.

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"John escorted James Meredith to the University of Mississippi," Obama said in a statement. "He walked alongside the Selma-to-Montgomery march. He laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act."

Doar, a Wisconsin native, graduated from Princeton University and the law school at the University of California Berkeley. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

He joined the Justice Department in 1960 after practicing with his family's law firm in Wisconsin.

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During the struggles to integrate Southern universities and to get voting rights for black people in Southern states, Doar served both as a prosecutor and as a guardian for activists. He spent the night in Meredith's dorm room after his presence at Ole Miss set off a deadly riot and defused a standoff between angry civil rights marchers armed with bottles, bricks and stones, and police with weapons drawn in Jackson, Miss.

"My name is John Doar -- D-O-A-R," he called to the crowd, as he convinced them to disband. "I'm from the Justice Department, and everyone here knows that what I stand for is right."

Doar also led the federal prosecutions of the men accused of killing civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner and of those charged with gunning down Viola Liuzzo. The accused killers were tried and convicted under a 19th-century law with violating the civil rights of their victims after Mississippi juries acquitted them of murder.

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Doar was known as a quiet man who shunned publicity. Unlike many of those involved in Watergate, he did not write a book.

In his later years, Doar practiced civil law in New York, founding a firm that eventually became Doar, Rieck, Kaley and Mack.

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Doar was twice married and twice divorced. He is survived by his three sons.

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