Augustus “Gus” Vanech (1947-1951)
Early History/Schooling: Augustus Devitt Vanech was born in 1906 in New York City and grew up in Stamford, Connecticut prior to attending Peekskill Military Academy in New York. He received an undergraduate law degree from the Washington College of Law in 1936 and an LL.M. from Catholic University in 1944.
Tenure as AAG: Vanech was appointed to the position of Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Lands Division in 1947 by President Truman, and remained in that role until 1951. During his tenure, the Division primarily worked on eminent domain cases and Indian land disputes. While many of the wartime acquisitions had been settled by 1947, the Division continued to acquire some land for purposes of national defense, notably in New Mexico for testing of modern bombs. The Division’s litigation also turned back to “peacetime activities” including dam and reservoir cases, irrigation projects, forestry cases, and power company litigation. During Vanech’s tenure as AAG, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government has rights superior to those of state governments with respect to oil in the marginal sea, and that jurisdiction over these lands was transferred to the Interior Department. One of the major projects during Vanech’s tenure was the acquisition of land for the Central Valley Project in California, a federal water project which brought millions of acre feet of water to California cities and farms annually. Additionally, between June 1948 and June 1949, 47 cases were filed before the Indian Court of Claims, with aggregate claims totaling $5,530,000,000. The Division’s case load continued to increase throughout Vanech’s tenure.
Career: Before joining the Justice Department, Vanech worked in the real estate and insurance industries while living in Stamford, Connecticut. Throughout his nearly two decade career in the Department, Vanech was promoted to increasingly important positions. In 1933, he was appointed Special Assistant to Attorney General Homer S. Cummings. In 1946, he was appointed Chairman of President Truman’s Temporary Commission on Employee Loyalty, tasked with investigating federal employees with ties to communist organizations. In 1951, Vanech was promoted from AAG to Deputy Attorney General under Attorney General James McGrath. Amid controversy that he had improperly obtained a license to practice law in Tennessee after failing bar examinations several times in Washington, D.C. and Virginia, Vanech resigned his post as Deputy Attorney General in 1952. Later that year, he pursued an unsuccessful Senate campaign in his home state of Connecticut, failing to secure the Democratic nomination. Afterwards, Vanech opened a civil law practice in Washington, D.C. where he worked until his death in 1967.
Personal: Vanech was married to Margaret Mary McAuliffe, and they had a son, Michael.
This material is based on the review of a variety of historical sources, and its accuracy cannot be guaranteed. If you have any corrections or additional information about this individual or about the history of the Division, please contact ENRD.