Paris High School graduate Judge Carl Eugene McGowan in his official portrait as a Justice on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. (Special to The Prairie Press)

Former Paris resident had role in Watergate

Many people try their whole lives to obtain the impossible dream. 

They try to reach the highest heights in their chosen profession, and some do not stop until the top is reached. Paris residents are no different. 

Some people even reach their goal by appointment of the President of the United States.

The McGowan family moved to Paris shortly after the May 7, 1911, birth of Carl Eugene McGowan at Hymera, Ind. His father, James W. McGowan, operated a grain elevator and a seed company in Paris. Young Carl McGowan proved an extremely intellectual child growing up. He graduated from Paris High School and from that point on the sky was his limit.

McGowan went on to Dartmouth College and graduated in 1932. His next stop was Columbia Law School and a law degree in 1936.      

From 1936 to 1939, McGowan had a flourishing private practice in New York City. He relocated to Chicago in 1939 as a faculty member at Northwestern Law School.

McGowan thrived in Chicago and was a well-regarded faculty member at Northwestern until the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. McGowan answered the call — like so many other American men — became an officer in the United States Naval Reserve and was stationed at the Naval Command in Washington D.C. 

He left the Naval Reserve in 1946 after World War II ended and briefly practiced law in Washington D.C. He resumed his position as a faculty member at Northwestern University in 1948, but after only a year on the faculty, McGowan took on the role as counsel to the Governor of Illinois Adlai Stevenson.

For the next four years, McGowan led the governor’s legal team. He returned to private practice in 1953 as a senior member of Ross, McGowan, Hardies and Okeefe. One of his responsibilities with the firm was serving as general counsel to the Chicago and North Western Railway.

McGowan practiced law and lived life day-by-day for the next 10 years. 

The 1961 election of John F. Kennedy as president eventually had a profound change on McGowan’s life when Justice Henry Edgerton retired from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1962. During the search for a replacement, Kennedy put his sights on a private practice lawyer from Chicago.

Kennedy announced the nomination of McGowan to the appellate court Jan. 15, 1963, and the Senate confirmed the nomination March 15, 1963.   

A decade later, McGowan played an important role during the Constitutional crisis prompted by the Watergate scandal of Richard Nixon’s presidency. He cast a vote with the majority in a five to two decision ordering Nixon to turn over disputed White House recordings made after the Watergate break-in. McGowan not only voted with the majority, he also wrote the 1982 opinion rejecting Nixon’s attempts to keep the 6,000 hours of recordings from going public.

In 1981, McGowan reached the apex of his career when he was elevated to Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, but he only served four months before he reached the age of 70 and retired as a full-time justice. After stepping down, McGowan remained a senior judge of the 11-member court.

McGowan returned to Paris only once after leaving for college. He came back in 1978 for his 50th Paris High School class reunion. On Dec. 21, 1987, McGowan lost a case that all do at some time and passed away into the history books at his Washington, D.C., home.

The Prairie Press

101 Central Avenue Paris, IL 61944