November 9, 1970 – A Trial Begins – A Tribulation Continues – Nixon And The Hot Potato Called Vietnam
November 9, 1970 – President Nixon and the War in Vietnam, and now Cambodia, were taking center stage. On this day, the State of Massachusetts threw a hot potato at the Supreme Court, but the Court in turn refused to touch it. The issue at hand was a law passed in Massachusetts which, in effect, declared the War in Vietnam illegal; that it had never been declared by Congress, was unconstitutional and therefore citizens of the state could not be forced to go there and fight and it asked the Court to rule on it. The court on this day said “no”, but it almost said yes. It takes only four of the nine members of SCOTUS to bring a case before the court – three said they wanted to hear it, but the other six said no. The government argued against the Massachusetts case, saying it would “hamstring the President”, insult the Congress and embarrass the country. Justices Harlan, Stewart and Douglas wanted to hear it. Douglas said the Court had differed with the President and Congress on less important cases than this but again, they lost by one vote.
The Court also heard arguments on how and when (if ever) a jury should decide on the Death Penalty – the lives of some 550 people on Death Row were depending on the decision.
The Army still hadn’t settled its case against Capt. Ernest Medina, accused in the My Lai massacre, but a new element appeared in the case this day. Because of what it called “additional information”, the Army re-opened its investigation into Captain Ernest Medina’s role in the alleged My Lai Massacre. Captain Medina was to have been court-martialed, but this day’s action could mean that some, or all of the charges against him may be dropped. The Court-martial trial of Lt. William Calley, accused of killing more than 100 people at My Lai was slated to begin the following day.
And sharp fighting broke out in several places in Cambodia this day, as Communist troops launched a series of attacks in an area just northeast of Phnom Penh. The attacks seemed to be coordinated and included artillery and infantry and it was not known if the moves were in response to a joint South Vietnamese/Cambodian operation which was sweeping south of Phnom Penh.
All that, and much-much more for this November 9, 1970 as reported by NBC Nightly News.