Thrower was a topflight Atlanta lawyer with Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan, former FBI agent and Marine Corps veteran that Richard Nixon appointed commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service in 1969. For two years, Thrower did his job as fairly as he knew how — among other things — refusing tax-exempt status to private schools that practiced racial discrimination.
Then came the acid test. The Nixon White House wanted to use the IRS to go after its “enemies list” by auditing political opponents and tax-exempt organizations — a la the IRS under the Obama administration more recently targeting tea party and other conservative groups by denying or delaying tax exempt status.
Thrower’s response: “Sure, we’ll audit them — just like everyone else when their names come up through the regular audit selection process.” That’s from Bill Bradley, a senior partner in Sutherland’s New York office, quoted by the Daily Report.
Thrower’s daughter, Patricia Barmeyer, a partner at King & Spalding, said her father later told her he tried repeatedly to get past Nixon aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman “to meet face-to-face with the president and tell him of the attempted misuse of the IRS, but he was never allowed to see him. He felt if he could see him, he could explain how wrong this was.” Only after the Watergate scandal broke did Thrower learn of Nixon’s own involvement.
Also to Thrower’s credit, he would not hire G. Gordon Liddy to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (then part of the IRS) — before the Watergate scandal revealed his organizing role in the burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, forced Nixon’s resignation and sent Liddy and other members of the White House “Plumbers” unit to prison.
Thrower got involved in the Georgia Republican Party in the early 1950s when the segregationist Democrats had a stranglehold on state government. But he believed in a two-party system and opposed the county unit system that gave disproportionate votes to smaller counties in Georgia primaries. The system was ruled unconstitutional in 1962 by another great Georgian, Judge Griffin Bell of U.S. District Court. His ruling was upheld on March 8, 1963, by the Supreme Court in its famous “one person, one vote” decision.
In the 1970s, when a promotion-exams cheating scandal engulfed the Atlanta Police Department, Mayor Maynard Jackson turned to Republican Thrower and Democrat Felker Ward Jr. to investigate pro bono. They did and uncovered the facts of the cheating, resulting in the mayor firing his public safety commissioner, Reginald Eaves.
Thrower gave much time to volunteer work, supporting the Atlanta Legal Aid Society for 60 years. In 1993, he received the American Bar Association Medal, its highest honor, recognizing that he “set a standard to which all lawyers can aspire.”
To which everyone else can aspire as well.