Former NY Senator and ‘conservative beacon’ James L. Buckley dies at 100
August 18, 2023 6:43pm
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James L. Buckley, a “conservative beacon” who won a shock election victory to represent New York in the US Senate in 1970, has died. He was 100.
Buckley’s death in a Washington, DC, hospital was the result of complications from a fall, his nephew, author and political satirist Christopher Buckley, told the New York Times Friday.
NYC native Buckley, the older brother of National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr., catapulted to national fame with his victory for the Conservative Party in the three-way Senate race between Republican incumbent Charles Goodell — who had been appointed by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to serve out the term of the assassinated Robert F. Kennedy — and Democrat Richard Ottinger.
Buckley, who had sought to challenge Goodell for the GOP line but was rejected by state party officials, hammered both the Republican and the Democrat for their dovish stances on the Vietnam War. With the tacit backing of President Richard Nixon, Buckley won the election with just 38.8% of the vote.
Buckley’s victory was the last for a third-party Senate candidate until Joe Lieberman won re-election as an independent from Connecticut in 2006, and no non-incumbent Senate contender has won on a third-party ballot line since.
Buckley served a single term in the Senate, during which he championed adding a so-called Human Life Amendment to the Constitution in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
He was also the primary sponsor of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which limits access to students’ records by third parties, and the Protection of Pupils’ Rights Act, a parental rights law which allows parents to inspect instructional material used as part of the educational curriculum.
An effort was made at the 1976 Republican National Convention to draft Buckley as the party’s presidential candidate. The nomination eventually went to President Gerald Ford following a strong challenge from future President Ronald Reagan. That November, Buckley lost his re-election bid, which he contested on the Republican and Conservative line, to Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Buckley made one more attempt to return to the Senate in 1980, but was defeated again, this time by Connecticut Democrat Christopher Dodd.