Tom Campbell Clark was born on September 23, 1899 in Dallas, Texas. He was the son of William Henry Clark and the former Virginia Maxey Falls. He was educated at Virginia Military Institute for two years and later University of Texas in Austin, where he received both his undergraduate and law degrees in 1922. After graduation, he returned to Dallas where he worked in his father’s law office and also in the District Attorney’s office. He joined the United States Department of Justice in 1937.
Although it was not the primary focus of his early career, a number of events seem to center around Japanese American affairs. Prior to World War II, Clark had served in California as regional head of the anti-trust division. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, Clark was appointed civilian coordinator of the federal Alien Enemy Control Program on the west coast. President Theodore Roosevelt had issued Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942 which provided in part for the incarceration of German, Japanese and Italian individuals. The United States actually had similar programs as far back as the late 1700s, the most recent being World War II. Following Pearl Harbor, there was a considerable amount of hysteria particularly on the west coast of the United States, at least partly fueled by media personnel and national fears of a Japanese invasion, espionage and sabotage. Although it was controversial at the time, during World War II, some 31,275 “enemy aliens” were confined under this act, 10,905 of which were German, 16,845 were Japanese and another 3,278 were Italians. Clark worked in this program but also was known to have particularly favored the protection of property owned by Japanese American individuals.
Clark was appointed United States Attorney General by President Harry Truman. He is said to have favored the prosecution of individuals who were accused of terrorizing returning Japanese Americans and begun settling claims in wartime related evacuation cases. He is also said to have approved the prosecution of Iva Toguri d’Aquino, one of the various individuals who served Japanese radio as “Tokyo Rose.” d’Aquino was accused of being one of the female radio announcers who worked in broadcasts designed to demoralize Allied troops during the war. d’Aquino was ultimately convicted of treason and served several years of a ten year sentence. By the time her trial began, Clark had left the Department of Justice. d’Aquino was pardoned by President Gerald Ford in 1977 and died in 2006.
Clark is said to have publicly expressed regret for his role in the internment and evacuation of Japanese Americans in World War II. He is quoted as saying, “The truth is – as this deplorable experience proved – that constitutions and laws are not sufficient of themselves; they must be given life through implementation and strict enforcement…let us determine to abide by the lessons that Executive Order 9066 teaches us – first, that the mere existence of a legal right is no more protection to individual liberty than the parchment upon which it is written, and second, that mutual love, respect, and understanding one another are stronger bonds than constitutions.”
Clark was appointed to the United States Supreme Court by President Harry S. Truman in 1949, being the only Texas born individual to serve in this capacity. As an Associate Justice, he served for eighteen years before retiring in 1967, resigning to avoid conflicts of interest that might occur once his son Ramsey Clark became United States Attorney General. He was considered to be a moderate for his decisions and a strong advocate for civil rights.
Clark continued to serve as a senior judge following his retirement. He was the first director of the Federal Judicial Center, the education and research agency of the United States federal court system. Clark died June 13, 1977 in Manhattan, New York and was buried at Restland Memorial Park in Dallas, Texas.
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