Benjamin Civiletti

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Ben Civiletti
Benjamin Civiletti (1979).jpg
Civiletti in 1979
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
Peekskill, New York, U.S.
DiedOctober 16, 2022(2022-10-16) (aged 87)
Lutherville, Maryland, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Gaile Lundgren
(m. 1958)

Benjamin Richard Civiletti (July 17, 1935 – October 16, 2022) was 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 U.S. Department of Justice, he previously served as the Deputy Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division. Later he was a senior partner in the Baltimore-based law firm of Venable LLP (known until 2003 as Venable, Baetjer & Howard).[1] He specialized in commercial litigation and internal investigations working at Venable LLP.

Beginning in 2001, Civiletti was 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 career[edit]

Civiletti was born in Peekskill, New York.[5] His father, Benjamin, worked as a grocery store manager; his mother was Virginia (Muller). Civiletti was raised in nearby Lake Mahopac and Shrub Oak and attended the Washington Irving High School which was in Tarrytown.[5] He graduated from Johns Hopkins University receiving a Bachelor of Arts in psychology in 1957.[5][6] He attended Columbia Law School and earned a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore.[7][5][8][9]

Civiletti was a law clerk for W. Calvin Chesnut, a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. He then became an assistant United States Attorney in Baltimore a year after graduating from law school, serving in that capacity until 1964.[5]


Griffin Bell noticed Civiletti's accomplishments while Bell was forming the Justice Department leadership team for the presidency of Jimmy Carter by his confidant, Charles Kirbo, a law partner of Bell's who had once been involved in a case with Civiletti.[10] In February 1977, Carter nominated Civletti to succeed Richard Thornburgh as United States Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division.[11] In 1978, he was nominated to become the Deputy Attorney General.[12]

Civiletti was serving as the Deputy Attorney General when Griffin Bell resigned as Attorney General of the United States.[5] He was appointed to the Justice Department's top position on July 19, 1979,[13] becoming the first Italian American to assume the role of attorney general.[14] Although Bell voluntarily resigned, his resignation happened 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 on the same day.[15][16] Transportation Secretary Brock Adams resigned soon afterwards.[17]

Benjamin Civiletti (2009)

As the US 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.[18] He also argued before the Supreme Court in support of the government's right to denaturalize Nazi war criminals in Fedorenko v. United States.[19]

Opinions which were written by Civiletti while he was attorney general, interpreted the United States Constitution and U.S. federal law to say that government cannot operate until Congress agrees on a spending bill. They set the stage for partial government shutdowns in later years.[20]

While serving as Attorney General, 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. The commutations happened in spite of public opposition from Puerto Rico's governor who believed it would encourage more terrorism.[21][22]

On July 10, 2008, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley announced that Civiletti would serve as the chairman of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment which was set up to study the application of capital punishment in Maryland and make a recommendation on the abolition of the death penalty in Maryland.[9] 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.[23]

Personal life[edit]

Civiletti married Gaile L. Lundgren in 1958. They had three children: Benjamin H., Andrew S., and Lynne T. Civiletti.[5]

Civiletti died on October 16, 2022, at home in Lutherville, Maryland. He was 87 and suffered from Parkinson's disease prior to his death.[5]



  1. ^ "Attorney General: Benjamin Richard Civiletti". October 23, 2014. Retrieved October 16, 2019.
  2. ^ "The Independent Review Board". Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  3. ^ "Teamster Corruption and the Consent Decree". Retrieved October 16, 2019.
  4. ^ The Independent Review Board Archived August 25, 2018, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h McFadden, Robert D. (October 17, 2022). "Benjamin Civiletti, 87, Attorney General in Iran Hostage Crisis, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved October 17, 2022.
  6. ^ "Benjamin R. Civiletti". Venable LLP. Retrieved July 15, 2010.
  7. ^ "Benjamin R. Civiletti, former U.S. Attorney general and partner at Venable LLP, dies".
  8. ^ "Benjamin R. Civiletti | Professionals | Venable LLP".
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ "20 Jul 1979, 44 – The Orlando Sentinel at". July 20, 1979. Retrieved October 17, 2022.
  11. ^ "16 Feb 1977". Casper Star-Tribune. February 16, 1977. p. 31. Retrieved October 17, 2022 – via
  12. ^ "21 Feb 1978". The Morning News. February 21, 1978. p. 7. Retrieved October 17, 2022 – via
  13. ^ "Department of Justice Resignation of Griffin B. Bell and Nomination of Benjamin R. Civiletti To Be Attorney General". The American Presidency Project. University of California, Santa Barbara. July 19, 1979. Retrieved October 17, 2022.
  14. ^ Battiata, Mary (September 15, 1980). "Romance Language". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 17, 2022.
  15. ^ Smith, Terence (July 20, 1979). "Carter Replaces Bell, Blumenthal, Califano; Miller Goes to Treasury". The New York Times. p. A1. Retrieved October 17, 2022.
  16. ^ Walsh, Edward (July 20, 1979). "Califano, Blumenthal Are Fired From Cabinet". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 17, 2022.
  17. ^ Smith, Terence (July 22, 1979). "Carter Asserts He Has No Apologies to Make Over Cabinet Changes". The New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved October 17, 2022.
  18. ^ "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 February 23, 2014. Retrieved May 23, 2013.
  19. ^ "16 Oct 1980, 24 – The Gazette at". October 16, 1980. Retrieved October 17, 2022.
  20. ^ Scott Horsley (April 8, 2011). "The Lawyer Who Raised The Shutdown Stakes". All Things Considered. NPR. Retrieved January 12, 2019.
  21. ^ "Puerto Rican Nationalists Announcement of the President's Commutation of Sentences". The American Presidency Project. September 6, 1979. Retrieved January 12, 2019.
  22. ^ "Nation: We Have Nothing to Repent". Time. September 24, 1979. Retrieved January 12, 2019.
  23. ^ Dechter, Gadi; Smitherman, Laura (November 13, 2008). "Repeal of death penalty urged". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved July 15, 2010.
  24. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  25. ^ "Venable Partner Ben Civiletti Named American Lawyer Lifetime Achievement Award Winner for 2009". Venable LLP. August 7, 2009.
  26. ^ "EJC marks Civiletti's lifetime of achievement". The Daily Record. September 30, 2012.

External links[edit]

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