Congressman Jack Brooks (D-Texas) – Biography
Congressman Jack Brooks, one of the longest serving members of the House of Representatives from Texas, earned national recognition for his major contributions to civil rights legislation, his dogged protection of civil liberties, his role as a watchdog over government spending and operations, and his part in the impeachment proceedings of President Richard M. Nixon. A lifelong Democrat with a reputation for straight talk and extensive constitutional and legal knowledge, Brooks represented the Second Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives from 1953 through 1966 and the Ninth Congressional District from 1967 through 1995. He served for more than fifteen years as the dean of the Texas congressional delegation.
Born in Crowley, Louisiana, on December 18, 1922, Brooks moved to Beaumont, Texas, at the age of five. He attended public schools and received a scholarship to Lamar Junior College. He transferred to The University of Texas where he earned a B.A. in journalism in 1943. During World War II, Brooks enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving for approximately two years in the Pacific theater on Guadalcanal, Guam, Okinawa, and in North China. He continued his military service in the Marine Corps Reserves until his retirement as a colonel in 1972.
In 1946, Brooks began his career in public service when he was elected to represent Jefferson County in the Texas Legislature. He won reelection in 1948 without opposition. While a member of the legislature, he earned a law degree from The University of Texas in 1949.
John F. Kennedy, Jack Brooks, and Lyndon B. Johnson image
President John F. Kennedy, Congressman Jack Brooks, and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson; Jack Brooks Congressional Collection, Center for American History.
Brooks was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1952, where he served for the next five decades. As a member of the influential Texas congressional delegation, Brooks became a close friend of powerful House Speaker Sam Rayburn and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson during the 1950s. He was a regular member of Speaker Rayburn’s “Board of Education,” a close group of congressional supporters. On November 22, 1963, Brooks rode in the motorcade carrying President John F. Kennedy, Vice President Johnson, and many members of the Texas congressional delegation through downtown Dallas. Following Kennedy’s assassination, Brooks was on Air Force One for Johnson’s swearing-in. He then flew with the new president, Lady Bird Johnson, and Jacqueline Kennedy back to Washington, D.C. During the Johnson Administration, Brooks remained a strong supporter of President Johnson and his legislative program. Throughout Johnson’s presidency, Brooks and his wife Charlotte dined with the Johnson family at the White House on a weekly basis.
During his congressional tenure, Brooks held many leadership roles on committees and subcommittees, including chairmanship of the House Committee on Government Operations from 1975 through 1988, and chairmanship of the House Committee on the Judiciary between 1989 and 1995. He became the senior member of the Texas Congressional delegation in 1979, a position he held until he left office in 1995.
As a ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, Brooks helped write the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965; he was one of the few southern congressmen to support civil rights legislation. He was a leader in the investigation that uncovered millions of dollars in public funds expended at the vacation homes of President Richard Nixon. During the national turmoil surrounding the Watergate scandal in 1974, he played a major on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment proceedings against President Nixon. Congressman Brooks drafted the articles of impeachment adopted by the Judiciary Committee. President Nixon resigned as a result of his involvement in the scandal. As the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Brooks sponsored significant pieces of legislation, including the Single Audit Act of 1984, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1991, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
As the leader of the Government Operations Committee, Brooks oversaw legislation affecting budget and accounting matters and the establishment of departments and agencies. He also helped pass the Inspector General Act of 1978, the General Accounting Office Act of 1980, and the Paper Reduction Act of 1980.
In 1994, Brooks sponsored the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The bill, which carried the federal assault weapons ban, has been credited with contributing to the decline in crimes committed in the United States during the 1990s.
During his nearly half a century of service to the people of his district, Brooks secured support for many local and regional projects, including funding for the Rayburn Dam and Reservoir and extensive improvements to deep water shipping channels along the Texas coast. He also helped pass legislation to provide flood insurance to individuals and businesses suffering losses due to hurricanes and other natural disasters.
Jack Brooks married Charlotte Collins in 1960. The couple’s three children are Jeb Brooks, Kate Brooks Carroll, and Kim Brooks; their grandchildren are Matthew Carroll and Brooke Carroll. Jack Brooks continues to live in Beaumont, Texas, and is active in the Democratic Party.
Originally published by the Briscoe Center For American History of The University of Texas at Austin.