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About Peter Wallace Rodino, Jr.
Peter Wallace Rodino, Jr. (June 7, 1909 – May 7, 2005) was a Democratic United States congressman from New Jersey from 1949 to 1989. Rodino rose to prominence as the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, where he oversaw the impeachment hearings that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Rodino was born Pelligrino Rodino, Jr. in Newark, New Jersey. His parents were immigrants from Italy. He attended Barringer High School. He went to college at the University of Newark and earned a law degree at the Newark Law School, both are now part of Rutgers University. During World War II, he earned a Bronze Star for service in Italy and North Africa.
After the war, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for congress in 1946, losing to incumbent Fred Hartley Jr. Trying again in 1948, when Hartley had decided not to run, he won the seat. As a congressman, Rodino was generally known as a liberal, and as a proponent of civil rights legislation and immigration reform. Representing a district that was heavily Italian-American when he was first elected, he was best known for his sponsorship of legislation that made Columbus Day a national holiday. Outside of his Newark district, he was not prominent as a congressman until the Nixon impeachment hearings.
Rodino became chairman of the house judiciary committee in January 1973 after the previous chair, Emanuel Celler (representing a New York City district), was defeated for re-election in the Democratic primary for his seat. During the Nixon impeachment hearings from May to July 1974, Rodino was generally considered to be a fair moderator of what, at times, were very partisan hearings. Key difficulties included ensuring that enough Republican committee members would vote for impeachment in order to defend against possible Nixon administration charges of Democratic partisanship. In the end, as further evidence emerged and Nixon admitted wrongdoing, several initially reluctant Republican members switched their votes, making the committee vote for impeachment unanimous.
During his congressional career, Rodino also was one of the managers of the impeachment hearings of a pair of federal judges: Nevada judge Harry Claiborne in 1986 (for tax evasion) and Florida judge (and future congressman) Alcee Hastings in 1988 (for perjury).
He continued as chair of the judiciary committee until his retirement from congress in 1989, when he was replaced by Donald M. Payne, New Jersey's first African-American representative. After leaving congress, he became professor emeritus at the Seton Hall University School of Law, where he taught and lectured until February 2005. He died on May 7, 2005, of congestive heart failure at the age of 95 at his home in West Orange, New Jersey. He was interred in Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Hanover.