He may be best remembered as Jimmy Carter’s Attorney General, but Griffin Bell was a giant in the legal profession long before that.
Born in rural Sumter County in 1918, Bell went to law school at Mercer University. In 1958, he was working for the Atlanta firm that became King & Spalding when he was appointed Governor Ernest Vandiver’s Chief of Staff.
Bell helped moderate Georgia’s response to the civil rights movement and facilitated the process of desegregation. He served as state chairman of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign, and a year later president Kennedy appointed Bell to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, where he continued to act as a voice of moderation while implementing desegregation across the South.
As Attorney General under Carter, Bell restored public confidence in the Department of Justice after Watergate. During the Iran-Contra investigations, he was personal counsel to President George H.W. Bush.
Judge Bell, the dean of Georgia lawyers died at the age of 90 on January 5, 2009, Today in Georgia History.