The folksy Democratic senator from North Carolina became a household name at age 76 when he served as chairman of the Senate's Watergate committee. His command of constitutional law and sense of humor captivated a national television audience that was following the burgeoning scandal.
First elected to the Senate in 1954, Ervin sided alternately with liberals on civil liberties issues and with conservatives in opposing civil rights legislation of the 1960s and the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. As chairman of the constitutional rights subcommittee, Ervin clashed with the Nixon administration over its attempts to increase the federal government's police powers, calling Nixon's expansive 1970 anticrime bill a "blueprint for a police state."
After Watergate, he retired to his hometown of Morganton, N.C., and wrote three books: "The Whole Truth: The Watergate Conspiracy," "Humor of a Country Lawyer" and "Preserving the Constitution: The Autobiography of Senator Sam J. Ervin, Jr." He said his one regret regarding the Watergate proceedings was that Congress did not do more to restrict the presidential claims of "executive privilege."
Ervin died in 1985 in Winston-Salem, N.C., at the age of 88.
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