Richard Harding Poff
|Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court|
August 31, 1972 – December 31, 1988
|Appointed by||Linwood Holton|
|Preceded by||Thomas Gordon|
|Succeeded by||Elizabeth Lacy|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Virginia's 6th district
January 3, 1953 – August 29, 1972
|Preceded by||Clarence Burton|
|Succeeded by||Caldwell Butler|
|Born||October 19, 1923|
Radford, Virginia, U.S.
|Died||June 27, 2011 (aged 87)|
Tullahoma, Tennessee, U.S.
|Education||Roanoke College (BA)|
University of Virginia, Charlottesville (LLB)
|Branch/service||United States Army|
|Years of service||1943–1945|
|Unit||U.S. Army Air Forces|
• Eighth Air Force
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Distinguished Flying Cross|
Richard Harding "Dick" Poff (October 19, 1923 – June 27, 2011) was an American politician and judge. He was first elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1952 from Virginia's 6th congressional district. An attorney and a Republican, he was given strong consideration for the United States Supreme Court by President Richard M. Nixon and was later appointed as a Justice (later Senior Justice) of the Virginia Supreme Court.
Born in Radford, Montgomery County, Virginia, Poff attended the local public schools and graduated from Christiansburg High School. He then traveled to Salem, Virginia for studies at Roanoke College. After his military service below, Poff used his GI bill benefits, he earned a law degree (LL.B.) in 1948 from the University of Virginia School of Law at Charlottesville.
During the Second World War, Poff served as a bomber pilot with the Eighth Air Force in England; flew thirty-five successful missions over Europe; awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross; was inactivated from the service as a first lieutenant serving from February 1943 to August 1945.
Poff was first elected to Congress in 1952, defeating incumbent Democrat Clarence G. Burton. He was the first Republican to represent this part of Virginia since Reconstruction, and likely owed his victory to Dwight Eisenhower carrying the state in that year's presidential election. However, the 6th had already been moving away from its Democratic roots for some time. The Byrd Democrats in western Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley had begun splitting their tickets as early as the 1930s. He would never face another contest nearly as close as his first one, and was reelected nine times.
Poff had his share of controversy during his decades in the House of Representatives. He and Joel Broyhill of Virginia were the only two Republicans, along with the rest of Virginia's entire Congressional delegation, and nearly all members from Southern states, to sign the Southern Manifesto protesting the Supreme Court's mandate in Brown v. Board of Education to desegregate public schools. A. Linwood Holton, former Governor of Virginia (1970–1974), and the commonwealth's first post-Reconstruction Republican Governor, suggests that Poff probably could not have been reelected unless he signed the manifesto. Despite that controversial decision, he was well liked by most of his constituents, most of whom had never been represented by a Republican before. This included many African Americans, who in an ABC News report on his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court described him as having a great interest in individuals; only one person in that report described him as a racist despite his having signed the Southern Manifesto. Consistent with his signing of the Manifesto, Poff voted against the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, 1964, and 1968, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but voted in favor of the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In 1971, he favored the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and supported federal aid to accelerate the desegregation process. He was the only member of the House Republican leadership who did not support President Eisenhower's proposal to increase the minimum wage and widen its coverage. According to John Dean, he was also the author of most of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States while serving on the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Before President Richard Nixon could formally nominate him for the U.S. Supreme Court, Poff withdrew (before nomination reached the Senate). John Dean wrote that Poff actually made that decision based on concerns that he would thus be forced to reveal to his then-12-year-old son that he had been adopted. Poff's concern was that the child would be negatively affected by that kind of information if revealed before he was old enough to understand.  Nevertheless, according to The New York Times, within weeks after he withdrew from consideration that sensitive personal information was revealed in Jack Anderson's column, and he was forced to inform the child of his adoption anyway.  By then, it was too late for reconsideration, and eventually Lewis Powell, another Virginian, was confirmed to the Supreme Court in Poff's place.
In 1971, when under consideration for the Supreme Court, Poff said in a newspaper interview that he had supported the Southern Manifesto and opposed desegregation because he believed he would have otherwise been defeated for reelection to the U.S. House. He voiced regret over his opposition to past civil rights measures. Within a year of those comments, he resigned from the House to join the Virginia Supreme Court.
Poff is also well known as one of the men who, as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, sponsored the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO. Poff had an interesting take on RICO, which has since been ignored by the Supreme Court. Poff stated in the Congressional Record that the Act should be used only against organizations, and not individuals.
Richard H. Poff went on to become Justice and then a Senior Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, where he served until his retirement.
He died on June 27, 2011, in a life care center in Tullahoma, Tennessee.
The Richard H. Poff Federal Building in Roanoke, Virginia is named for Poff. It houses many of the primary federal offices in southwest Virginia, including the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Roanoke Public Library maintains a collection of newsletters Congressman Poff sent to his constituents (1954-1971).
He likely would have been defeated if he had not signed that document, but I expect he has regretted that signature through the years.
...[When] the President called for an increase in the minimum wage ... all members of the GOP leadership save Poff of Virginia came on board.
Poff ... didn't really want to put himself or his family through the controversy of being nominated and then beat up through the senate confirmation process.
...Representative Richard Poff, a moderate conservative from Virginia...
|U.S. House of Representatives|
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 6th congressional district
| Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court