Benjamin Civiletti


Benjamin Richard Civiletti (born July 17, 1935) is an American lawyer who served as the United States Attorney General during the Carter administration, from 1979 to 1981. The first Italian American to lead the Department of Justice, he previously served as the Deputy Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division. He is a former senior partner in the Baltimore-based law firm of Venable LLP (known until 2003 as Venable, Baetjer & Howard),[1] where he specialized in commercial litigation and internal investigations.

Ben Civiletti
1Benjamin Civiletti.jpg
73rd United States Attorney General
In office
August 16, 1979 – January 19, 1981
PresidentJimmy Carter
Preceded byGriffin Bell
Succeeded byWilliam French Smith
17th United States Deputy Attorney General
In office
May 16, 1978 – August 16, 1979
PresidentJimmy Carter
Preceded byPeter F. Flaherty
Succeeded byCharles B. Renfrew
United States Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division
In office
March 10, 1977 – May 16, 1978
PresidentJimmy Carter
Preceded byDick Thornburgh
Succeeded byPhilip Heymann
Personal details
Benjamin Richard Civiletti

(1935-07-17) July 17, 1935 (age 87)
Peekskill, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Gaile Lundgren
EducationJohns Hopkins University (BA)
University of Maryland, Baltimore (LLB)

Since 2001, Civiletti has been one of the three members of the Independent Review Board,[2] a board that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union must answer to when allegations of corruption or organized crime infiltration surface under the terms of a consent decree issued in 1989[3] by a federal district court judgment.[4]

Early life and careerEdit

Born in Peekskill, New York in 1935, Civiletti graduated from Johns Hopkins University, where he received an A.B. in psychology in 1957,[5] and from the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore, Maryland, where he received a LLB in 1961.[6][7]

Civiletti was a law clerk for W. Calvin Chesnut, a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, and became an Assistant United States Attorney in Baltimore a year after graduating from law school.

Benjamin Civiletti (1979)

Civiletti was serving as the Deputy Attorney General when his boss Griffin B. Bell resigned. He was elevated to the top job in the Justice Department on July 19, 1979. Although Bell resigned voluntarily, his resignation occurred during a major Cabinet shakeup in the Carter administration. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Joseph A. Califano, Jr. and Secretary of the Treasury W. Michael Blumenthal also resigned the same day. Transportation Secretary Brock Adams soon followed.

Civiletti had come to Bell's attention when he was forming the Justice Department leadership team for the newly elected president by Carter's close confidant, Charles Kirbo, a law partner of Bell's who had once been involved in a case with Civiletti. Civiletti served as assistant attorney general in charge of the Criminal Division and was elevated to deputy attorney general after the resignation of Carter's first deputy attorney general, Peter F. Flaherty, the former mayor of Pittsburgh.

As the Attorney General, Civiletti argued several important cases on behalf of the U.S. government. Notably, he argued before the International Court of Justice on behalf of Americans being held captive in Iran during the Iran hostage crisis, in the Case Concerning United States Diplomatic and Consular Staff in Tehran.[8] He also argued before the Supreme Court in support of the government's right to denaturalize Nazi war criminals in Fedorenko v. United States.

Opinions written by Civiletti as attorney general, which interpreted the Constitution and federal law to say that government cannot operate until Congress agrees on a spending bill, set the stage for partial government shutdowns in later years.[9]

While serving as Attorney General, and in spite of public opposition from Puerto Rico's governor who believed it would encourage more terrorism, Civiletti recommended, and President Carter agreed, to a commutation of sentences to time served for four unrepentant Puerto Rican nationalists convicted of shooting five U.S. Congressmen at the U.S. Capitol.[10][11]

On July 10, 2008, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley announced that Civiletti would serve as the chairman of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, set up to study the application of capital punishment in Maryland and make a recommendation on the abolition of the death penalty in Maryland.[7] On November 12, 2008, the Commission voted 13-7, with Civiletti voting with the majority, to recommend that the Maryland General Assembly abolish capital punishment in the state.[12]

Personal lifeEdit

Civiletti and his wife, the former Gaile L. Lundgren, had three children, Benjamin H., Andrew S. and Lynne T. Civiletti.



  1. ^ "Attorney General: Benjamin Richard Civiletti". 23 October 2014. Retrieved 2019-10-16.
  2. ^ "The Independent Review Board". Retrieved 2018-01-19.
  3. ^ "Teamster Corruption and the Consent Decree". Retrieved 2019-10-16.
  4. ^ The Independent Review Board Archived 2018-08-25 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ "Benjamin R. Civiletti". Venable LLP. Retrieved July 15, 2010.
  6. ^ "Benjamin R. Civiletti | Professionals | Venable LLP".
  7. ^ a b "Governor O'Malley Announces Benjamin Civiletti as Chairman of Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, Announces Commission Members". Annapolis, Maryland: Office of the Governor. July 10, 2008. Archived from the original on June 21, 2010. Retrieved July 15, 2010.
  8. ^ "Oral Arguments on the Request for the Indication for Provisional Measures: Minutes of the Public Sittings Held at the Peace Palace, The Hague, 10 December and on 15 December 1979, President Sir Humphrey Waldock Presiding" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-02-23. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  9. ^ Scott Horsley (8 April 2011). "The Lawyer Who Raised The Shutdown Stakes". All Things Considered. NPR. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  10. ^ "Puerto Rican Nationalists Announcement of the President's Commutation of Sentences". The American Presidency Project. 6 September 1979. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  11. ^ "Nation: We Have Nothing to Repent". Time. 24 September 1979. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  12. ^ Dechter, Gadi; Smitherman, Laura (November 13, 2008). "Repeal of death penalty urged". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved July 15, 2010.
  13. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  14. ^ "Venable Partner Ben Civiletti Named American Lawyer Lifetime Achievement Award Winner for 2009". Venable LLP. August 7, 2009.
  15. ^ "EJC marks Civiletti's lifetime of achievement". The Daily Record. September 30, 2012.

External linksEdit

Legal offices
Preceded by U.S. Deputy Attorney General
Served under: Jimmy Carter

Succeeded by
Preceded by U.S. Attorney General
Served under: Jimmy Carter

Succeeded by
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded byas Former US Cabinet Member Order of precedence of the United States
as Former US Cabinet Member
Succeeded byas Former US Cabinet Member