Robert L. Saloschin, a Justice Department lawyer who found an unconventional legal basis for the federal government to order the racial integration of interstate bus travel and bus terminals during the violence-wracked Freedom Rides of 1961, died Feb. 24 at his home in Bethesda. He was 95.
The cause was myelodysplasia, a blood disorder, said his daughter, Mary Ann Hubbard.
In a 23-year Justice Department career, Mr. Saloschin also was a top official advising federal agencies on compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, and he was one of the authors of the legislation that created Comsat, the Communications Satellite Act of 1962.
In 1961, he recommended that desegregation of bus and terminal facilities be brought about by petition to the Interstate Commerce Commission, which many lawyers previously thought had authority over only economic matters.
Early that year, groups of “Freedom Riders,” black and white, had boarded New Orleans-bound buses in Washington, intending to challenge racial segregation laws and customs throughout the South. There were minor incidents and some arrests from Virginia through Georgia.
But in Alabama, the riders were met by Ku Klux Klan-led mobs armed with crowbars, pitchforks and clubs. A bus was burned near Anniston, Ala., and riders were attacked and beaten. Photographs and videotapes of the violence were broadcast around the world, much to the embarrassment of the new president, John F. Kennedy, and his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, whose pleas for a cooling-off period went unheeded.
It was at that point, then-Deputy Attorney General Nicholas deB. Katzenbach wrote in his 2008 memoir “Some of It Was Fun,” that Mr. Saloschin suggested a petition to the Interstate Commerce Commission. Mr. Saloschin had years of experience with federal agencies, Katzenbach wrote, and he knew whereof he spoke.
The two men met with the general counsel of the ICC, who doubted that the commission had the authority to issue an order.
“But Saloschin had the bit in his teeth,” Katzenbach wrote, quoting him as having said, “Well, the Attorney General can formally and publicly petition the Commission to desegregate all buses and terminals if he wants to.”
Continued Katzenbach: “This seemed a dramatic and somewhat original way of supporting the Freedom Riders, and Bobby [Kennedy] liked it. So did the president.”
The petition was filed in May 1961, and that September, the ICC issued a sweeping order banning racial segregation at travel facilities. Still, Katzenbach said, it took two more years to fully enforce the order.
Robert Louis Saloschin was born Jan. 15, 1920, in New York City, where his father ran a detective agency. He graduated in 1940 from Columbia University, where he also completed his law degree in 1947 after Navy service in the Pacific as a flier in World War II.
He worked two years as a lawyer on Wall Street, then came to Washington. In 1958, he joined the Justice Department after handling economic and safety cases for the Civil Aeronautics Board.
He became chairman of the Justice Department’s Freedom of Information Committee in 1970 and, from 1978 until he retired in 1981, was director of its Office of Information, Law and Policy, advising federal agencies on openness and secrecy issues.
In retirement he consulted on law and national security for a committee of the American Bar Association and did legal work for the Bethesda law firm of Lerch, Early & Brewer.
Survivors include his wife of 65 years, Neita Smith Saloschin of Bethesda; two daughters, Mary Ann Hubbard of Raynham, Mass., and Joan Bunning of Washington; and four grandchildren.
More than 50 years after he learned to fly in the Navy, Mr. Saloschin still had a civilian pilot’s license, and his flying career was long enough for him to enjoy taking his grandchildren up for rides in a Cessna aircraft.
He was a boatman and in 1962 had the opportunity to go on an expenses-paid voyage from Florida to the Chesapeake Bay as captain of a cabin cruiser, with his wife and daughters as passengers. It would take two weeks. He asked Robert Kennedy whether he could get the time off.
“I can’t imagine a better use of two weeks’ time,” said the attorney general, according to Hubbard.