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John Doar, who as a Justice Department lawyer in the 1960s escorted James Meredith as he integrated the University of Mississippi, and who later helped prepare articles of impeachment against President Ricard Nixon, died Tuesday at age 92, the White House said. Doar, who lived in New York, died of congestive heart failure, his son Burke Doar told The Associated Press.
Doar was assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division until 1967, heading up investigations of racial discrimination across the South. In addition to helping oversee enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Doar was at Meredith's side as the young African-American Air Force veteran walked into the University of Mississippi under the watchful eyes of 500 U.S. marshals in 1962. In 1967, he led the federal prosecution of 18 people charged in the killings three years earlier of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney in Mississippi, winning convictions against seven. The killings were dramatized in the 1988 movie "Mississippi Burning."
Calling Doar "one of the bravest American lawyers of his or any era," President Barack Obama — who awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 — said in a statement: "Without John's courage and perseverance, Michelle and I might not be where we are today."
After several years in private practice, Doar returned to government service as chief counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during its investigation of the Watergate scandal, eventually recommending in 1974 that Nixon be impeached with the observation that he couldn't "believe I am speaking as I do or thinking as I do."
"I'm sure I voted for him," Doar, a lifelong Republican, told the alumni magazine of the University of California, where he earned his law degree, in 2007.
— M. Alex Johnson