Rarick was born in rural Waterford in La Porte County in Indiana. He graduated from Goshen High School in Goshen, Indiana. He studied at Ball State University (then Teacher's College) in Muncie, Indiana.
Rarick then entered the United States Army's Specialized Training Program and was sent to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he lived in the college barracks. He was then dispatched to the European Theater with the infantry during World War II. He was captured at the Battle of the Bulge and later escaped from a German prisoner of war camp at Wurzburg. He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
After his military service, Rarick obtained his bachelor's degree from LSU. He then attended Tulane University Law School in New Orleans, from which he graduated with an LLB and then a Juris Doctor degree in 1949. He was admitted to the Louisiana state bar later that year and set up a law practice in St. Francisville north of Baton Rouge. He was a member of the Louisiana State Bar Association for more than sixty years. On June 28, 1961, he was elected as a judge of the 20th Judicial District in East and West Feliciana parishes. He resigned the judgeship on May 15, 1966, to declare his candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Rarick had been a member of the Democratic Party in Indiana and for a time was the party's city chairman in Goshen. He remained a Democrat when he moved to Louisiana. In the summer of 1966, Rarick upset veteran Sixth District U.S. Representative James Hobson "Jimmy" Morrison (no relation to DeLesseps Story Morrison) of Hammond in a closed Democratic primary runoff with 51.2 percent of the vote. Morrison had a "moderate racial record" and was attacked in the campaign by Rarick as an ally of "the black-power voting bloc" and being an "LBJ rubber stamp". Rarick campaigned on "a segregationist, anti-President Johnson and anti-federal government theme." Morrison accused Rarick of being a member of the Ku Klux Klan, for which Rarick sued Morrison for libel.
Rarick's victory coincided with the selection of another controversial conservative, Lester Maddox, as the Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia. Incidentally, both Rarick and his 1966 Republican opponent, Crayton Green "Sparky" Hall (c. 1925-2014), later left their major parties— in 1976, Hall was the Sixth Congressional District elector for the Libertarian Party, pledged that year to the Virginian Roger MacBride. Hall polled only 23 percent of the ballots cast in his race against Rarick. A native of Columbus, Georgia, who was reared in Leesville, Louisiana, Crayton Hall was a process development engineer for the Ethyl Corporation in Baton Rouge. He ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish in 1968 against the Democrat Woody Dumas. He was a floor representative for Ronald W. Reagan's 72-hour presidential bid at the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida. Hall soon left the GOP and was the founding chairman of the Louisiana Libertarian Party from the early 1970s until 1985, when he relocated to North Carolina. There he was an active Libertarian in that state as well. He died in Hendersonville, North Carolina, at the age of eighty-nine.
Rarick quickly compiled a very conservative voting record, even by Louisiana Democratic standards. According to one scoring method, published in the American Journal of Political Science, Rarick was the second most conservative Democrat of either chamber of Congress between 1937 and 2002. In a period of four years, 1971–1974, the American Conservative Union gave Rarick a perfect score of 100 three times, and a score of 91 once (in 1973). Like colleague Joe D. Waggonner Jr., of Bossier Parish, Rarick was a former member of the pro-segregation White Citizens' Council, founded in the middle 1950s by the State Senator William M. Rainach of Claiborne Parish. Rarick spoke at events sponsored by the anticommunist John Birch Society.
In November 1967, with less than a year of congressional service to his credit, Rarick challenged popular Democratic Governor John J. McKeithen for renomination. Rarick secured the support of various "far right" groups in the state, but was badly defeated, winning only 17.3 percent of the two-candidate vote to McKeithen's 80.7 percent. (There were several minor candidates not included in the percent breakdown.) Rarick did not poll a gubernatorial majority even among those voters who expected to support Wallace for president in 1968.
During the primary campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor, three or four men in a car fired four quick shots at the congressman in a New Orleans parking lot. Rarick told the media: "The whole thing happened about like the flip of a finger. At first it sounded like someone threw a cherry bomb. Then I turned around and looked at this car. This fellow was pointing a gun right at me. The shots kept coming. I jumped between cars ... I couldn't even tell you how many shots were fired. You don't count when you're looking down a gun barrel." A Rarick campaign aide suggested the assassination attempt might have been related to organized crime.
In both his campaign against Jimmy Morrison and against John McKeithen, Rarick was regarded as the segregationist candidate. As a judge, Rarick had condemned racial integration as "a tool of the Communist conspiracy." He referred to racial busing as a torture tactic.
On June 13, 1967, Rarick introduced H.R. 208 which asked Congress to renounce the validity of the 14th Amendment; Rarick presented historical evidence gathered by Leander H. Perez of Plaquemines Parish purporting to show that the 14th Amendment was never validly adopted.
In the midst of riots in Washington, D.C., following the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Rarick called for a congressional investigation into the violence in the capital, and remarked that the police and federal troops in the city had been "rendered ineffective" by orders which "utilized the forces of law and order to protect the looters and rioters from an angry citizenry." A year after King's death, Rarick called King "a Communist errand-boy" and a man "whose only claim to fame was disobedience of the law."
In 1969, Rarick was described as a "patsy" for neo-Nazis for having spoken at several Liberty Lobby rallies; similar charges were made against several other politicians of national standing. It was also alleged that Willis Carto's United Congressional Appeal made $3,000 contributions to Rarick and two other U.S. representatives.
In 1970, Rarick gave a speech in support of Ian Smith's white minority-rule government in the former Rhodesia and denounced the U.S. policy of denying recognition to Smith's government.
In February 1971, when Captain Jerry B. Finley of Louisiana faced dismissal for refusing to shake hands with a black officer, Rarick called a news conference in Finley's defense. The Associated Press reported that "John Rarick ... said that in his state it is not considered in good taste for a white person to shake hands with a black stranger."
In 1972, U.S. Representative Charles C. Diggs, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, called Rarick the "leading racist in this (92nd) Congress." The remark was made during a hearing on home rule for the District of Columbia, which Rarick testified against—at one point, he described the district as a "sinkhole, rat infested ... the laughing stock of the free and Communist world." Diggs said that "We are stretching the First Amendment even to permit you to speak before this committee." The local D.C. audience applauded Diggs' remarks, a fact which Rarick felt was "a perfect example of why we should prohibit home rule for the District of Columbia."
On January 3, 1973, Rarick introduced a resolution asking for a concurrent resolution by Congress stating that the federal government, the states, and local governments could not bar the song "Dixie" from being played. The same day, he asked for a resolution that federal employees living in the District of Columbia must send their children to the predominantly black D.C. public schools.
In 1968, Rarick won renomination by turning back a primary challenge from State Senator J. D. DeBlieux of Baton Rouge. DeBlieux (pronounced like the letter "W") was one of the first white politicians in Louisiana to have endorsed the civil rights agenda. By a 79-21 percent margin, Rarick then defeated the Republican congressional nominee, Loyd J. Rockhold (1922–2010), a civil engineer and LSU graduate originally from Jonesboro, the seat of Jackson Parish in north Louisiana. Rockhold later served on the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and was a long-time advocate for the disabled. He established the Special Children's Foundation and the Loyd J. Rockhold Center for Child Development at LSU, which was subsequently expanded and relocated to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and renamed for the late Education Superintendent Cecil J. Picard.
In 1968, Rarick supported American Independent Party candidate George Wallace for president against Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey and Republican Richard M. Nixon. Like the Democratic Representatives Albert W. Watson and John Bell Williams who had supported Republican Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election, Rarick was also stripped of seniority by the House Democratic Caucus for having openly supported Wallace.
Some Democrats were hesitant to discipline Rarick for concern that punitive action might make him a martyr in his district. Representative Richard W. Bolling of Missouri of the House Rules Committee, however, led the move to strip Rarick of his two years of seniority. Rarick depicted himself as one with "political leprosy ... a whipping boy to intimidate older party members, to frighten them ... so they will vote as a unity group." Since Rarick had only served a single term, the action was largely a symbolic gesture. Nonetheless, Rarick reportedly considered switching to the Republican Party but never did so. George Wallace carried the Sixth District that Rarick represented by 54 percent, and won Louisiana by a plurality vote of 48 percent statewide.
In 1969, Rarick wrote a letter of support to New York City Democratic mayoral candidate Mario Procaccino, offering to campaign "either for or against you [Procaccino]—whichever will be more helpful." Procaccino was thereafter defeated by the incumbent liberal Republican John V. Lindsay, who in 1971 defected to the Democrats and unsuccessfully sought his new party's presidential nomination in 1972.
In 1970, Rarick won renomination, 57,835 to 40,450, against the liberal Democrat Jesse Bankston of Baton Rouge, a long-time figure in the Louisiana Democratic State Central Committee.
In 1972, as Rarick was re-elected to his fourth and final term, his home parish of West Feliciana was the only parish among the sixty-four parishes to support Democratic presidential nominee George S. McGovern for president over Richard Nixon.
Once described as "a Communist-hater of mountainous rage," Rarick favored prosecution of the Vietnam War. He spoke at pro-war rallies with fellow anti-communist Carl McIntire. He remarked at an April 1970 rally that "A people with the intelligence, the skills, the financial resources and the organizational ability to place astronauts on the moon—not once, but repeatedly—is surely capable of military victory over a minor, backward, disorganized, fourth-rate dictatorship." At a May 1971 rally, he remarked that U.S. leaders "lack the guts to end the war in the five to six weeks every military leader says it will take." Rarick also joined McIntire at a rally urging Nixon to cancel his upcoming trip to China.
Rarick testified in favor of strengthening the Internal Security Act of 1950 and charged that the Subversive Activities Control Board was not doing its job.
Rarick, along with Republican Representative John M. Ashbrook of Ohio, regularly inserted accounts of terror tactics in the former South Vietnam into the Congressional Record.
In April 1971, mere days after Lieutenant William Calley was convicted of ordering the My Lai Massacre, Rarick offered an amendment, dedicated to Calley, which would have outlawed the prosecution of soldiers for killings during wartime. "We must tell every mother we shall not let another soldier be disgraced in this manner," Rarick said in advocacy of the amendment, "Isn't premeditated murder what war is all about?" The amendment was defeated by a voice vote.
In September 1971, 21 Senators and 33 House members, led by James L. Buckley (New York Conservative) and William E. Brock III (Tennessee Republican), called a press conference to urge that the Republic of China (Taiwan) not be expelled from the United Nations; some congressmen, however, expressed support for President Nixon's efforts to improve relationships with the People's Republic of China. The conference came to an abrupt end when Representative John G. Schmitz (California Republican) and Rarick stood up and walked out, with Schmitz saying, "Congressman Rarick and I are leaving, and you can take our names off that list. This is too weak a position."
Early in 1972, Rarick opposed President Nixon's latest peace proposal that would allow, when implemented in 1973, the acceptance of the Communist Party in a new government in South Vietnam. Rarick referred to Nixon as a "sellout" and one who catered to his own Democratic opponents. Colleague F. Edward Hébert, a Democrat from New Orleans, also known for his hawkish views on the war, however, defended Nixon's offer as sincere and workable.
In 1971, Rarick joined liberal Democratic U.S. Representatives Robert L. Leggett of California and Parren J. Mitchell of Maryland to sponsor the "People Power Over War Act", a proposed constitutional amendment requiring a national referendum on military action other than an invasion of the country. It was patterned after the former Ludlow Amendment. From 1935 to 1941, Representative Louis L. Ludlow, an Indiana Democrat, introduced legislation each year to oppose President Franklin D. Roosevelt's interventionist foreign policy. The text of the measure reads in part: "Except in the event of an attack or invasion the authority of Congress to declare war shall not become effective until confirmed by a majority of all votes cast thereon in a nationwide referendum."
Early in 1972, U.S. Senator Sam Ervin, of North Carolina disclosed that Army intelligence surveillance of civilian officials from late 1967 into 1970 was more extensive than had been previously revealed. In a brief filed with the United States Supreme Court, Ervin said that the Army had watched the political activities of certain public officials and retired politicians, including Rarick. Ervin said that the main targets were persons and organizations either opposed to the Vietnam War or considered "anti-establishment".
Among the measures that Rarick introduced in Congress were the following:H.R. 10851: A bill to provide that paper money carry a designation in Braille to indicate the denomination
H.R. 6359: A bill to permit a deduction from gross annual income any expenses incurred in connection with the adoption of a child
H.R. 118: A bill to permit citizens of the United States to acquire, hold, and dispose of gold
H.R. 119: A bill to vest in the U.S. government unconditional ownership of the twelve Federal Reserve banks
H.R. 960: A bill to reduce the public debt each fiscal year by at least 10 percent of the estimated overall federal receipts
H.R. 5164: A bill to exempt law enforcement officer and firefighters from paying federal taxes on their first $5,000 of compensation (1973 dollars)
Rarick was an opponent of gun control and gun registration. Of the latter, he said in 1971, "History confirms that registration of firearms inevitably leads to confiscation, followed by enslavement of peoples." Also that year, he introduced a bill to repeal the Gun Control Act of 1968, signed into law by President Johnson.
Rarick supported prayer in public schools, backing a constitutional amendment to that end.
In 1973, Rarick introduced a bill to withdraw the U.S. from the United Nations. Earlier, in 1972, Rarick tried to bring John G. Schmitz's bill to withdraw from the U.N. to a vote. Rarick was against foreign aid, writing in 1971: "In my three terms in the House I have never seen a foreign aid bill that deserved passage. I have always felt that we should have Americans helping Americans first, not after they got through helping everyone else."
Representative H. R. Gross (Iowa Republican) and Rarick were vocal opponents of legislation converting the U.S. to the metric system, Rarick calling it "anti-American".
In 1974, voters denied Rarick renomination, as they had done to Morrison eight years earlier. In order to unseat Rarick the Democratic Party leadership either paid for or strongly encouraged nine candidates to oppose Rarick in the primary race so that Rarick could be prevented from receiving a plurality. Rarick was unseated in the Democrat runoff election by a young Baton Rouge television broadcaster formerly from Arkansas, Jeffrey Dean "Jeff" LaCaze (born c. 1944), who objected to Rarick's conservative voting record. LaCaze prevailed, 60,570 votes to 56,659. LaCaze was considered a liberal who enjoyed the support of organized labor and most African Americans in a district then almost one-third black.
LaCaze in turn lost to Republican W. Henson Moore III, of Baton Rouge in a disputed November 1974 general election. In a special election rematch held in January 1975 to resolve the deadlock, LaCaze lost by nearly eight percentage points to Moore. LaCaze was then made public relations spokesman for then mayor of Baton Rouge, W. W. "Woody" Dumas. The Sixth District seat was then in Republican hands for more than thirty years, first with Moore, then with Richard H. Baker, also of Baton Rouge, until state Representative Don Cazayoux of New Roads defeated Republican former state Representative Louis Elwood "Woody" Jenkins Jr. in a special election held on May 3, 2008. The seat returned to Republican hands in January 2009 after Cazayoux lost the regular general election on November 4, 2008, to Bill Cassidy, a Baton Rouge physician.
Rarick resumed the practice of law after his congressional defeat.
Rarick ran for the American Independent Party (AIP) nomination in 1976, against Robert Morris (who had Richard Viguerie as his running mate and the backing of National Review-publisher William A. Rusher) and former Governor Lester Maddox. Maddox, who had been widely described as the front-runner prior to the convention, won the nomination on the first ballot, with the support of 177 delegates (52.2%). Morris had the support of 80 delegates (23.6%) and Rarick had 79 (23.3%). In the general election, Maddox would go on to win 170,274 votes (or 0.21%).
Rarick then turned his attention to returning to Congress. He ran in the suburban New Orleans-based First District in 1976 as an Independent. The seat had come open when 36-year incumbent F. Edward Hébert announced his retirement. Rarick polled only 12,227 votes (9.4 percent). However, he siphoned off enough votes that presumably otherwise would have gone to Republican Robert L. "Bob" Livingston to throw the election to Democrat Richard Alvin "Rick" Tonry. In a surprise development, Tonry was forced to resign from the U.S. House in May 1977 because of allegations of electoral misconduct. Livingston thereafter won the seat in a special election held in August 1977.
In 1980, Rarick again sought the AIP nomination, competing against Percy L. Greaves Jr., of New York (already the nominee of the American Party) and James Schumacher of Arizona. Both Rarick and Greaves were described as advocating a "strictly defensive non-intervention[ist] foreign policy" while Schumacher spoke in favor of arming Israel "to the teeth" and the "complete destruction of the next country that invades Israel." In a speech to 150 convention delegates, Rarick outlined a platform which opposed foreign aid and American participation in the United Nations, and citing his congressional votes against the Equal Rights Amendment and funding for abortion. Rarick easily secured the nomination, winning the support of 64 delegates (84.2%) on the first ballot; Greaves had the support of 11 delegates (14.5%) and Schumacher had only a single supporter (1.3%). Eileen Knowland Shearer of California (the wife of AIP founder William K. Shearer) was chosen as Rarick's running mate.
On the ballot in only eight states, Rarick finished in seventh place, with 40,906 votes (or just 0.05 percent). Rarick's most respectable showings were in Louisiana, where he polled 10,333 votes (0.67 percent and about the same number that Maddox had received four years earlier) and in Alabama where he captured 15,010 votes (1.12 percent). Overall, his totals were so meager as to have been omitted from most presidential election tallies. He opposed the campaign of Republican Ronald Reagan for president that year on the grounds that Reagan, a former governor of California, was too accommodating to the welfare state to address the pressing needs of the nation.
In 1990, Rarick supported David Duke's candidacy for U.S. Senator against the Democrat J. Bennett Johnston Jr.; Duke won 44 percent of the vote and launched a losing gubernatorial race in 1991.
Rarick was awarded the "Medal of Honor" from the National Society for the Daughters of the American Revolution. He received the "Medal of Freedom" Award from the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation, an organization named for the Hungarian priest, József Mindszenty, who was persecuted and exiled because of his opposition to Joseph Stalin and communist abuses during the Cold War. Rarick was given a "life achievement award" by the National Council of Conservative Citizens, a group of which he was a charter member and frequently addressed, along with the late conservative columnist, Samuel T. "Sam" Francis. Rarick was named "Mason of the Century" by the Feliciana Lodge 31, where he was active for more than a half century and twice served as its worshipful master. He was instrumental in organizing the lodge's annual "Day the War Stopped", an annual American Civil War re-enactment.
On December 27, 1945, Rarick married the former Marguerite Pierce (September 10, 1924 – April 13, 2003), the mother of his three children. On January 21, 2004, the widower Rarick married the former Frances Eldred Campbell, a long-time family friend. In addition to his first wife, he was preceded in death by a grandson, Marc Magee Slattery.
Rarick died of cancer at his St. Francisville home at 9:20 p.m., on September 14, 2009. Cherie Brumfield, his daughter and former law partner, told Baton Rouge Morning Advocate that her father stood up for his lifetime motto: "For God and the Constitution", words inscribed on his tombstone. Brumfield said that Rarick had tried to "wake up America to fight for America." She added that her father, despite his Indiana birth, considered himself "as proud a southerner as anyone born here. He would say, 'I'm a southerner by choice, not chance.'"
In addition to his second wife, Rarick is survived by one son, John Rarick, II, and wife Kay, and daughters Cherie Rarick Brumfield and husband, Bill, and Laurie Rarick Slattery and husband, John. He had nine grandchildren: John Rarick, III, and wife Tara; Parrish Rarick; Alecia Rarick Tortorich and husband, Louis; Jodie Brumfield Morrow and husband, Jude; William Brian Brumfield; H. Doyle Magee, III; John Slattery, III; Marguerite Slattery, and Patrick Rarick Slattery. He had six great-grandchildren: Brennan Morrow, Catherine Morrow, Christian Rarick, McKenna Rarick, John Challen Rarick, and Kaitlyn Tortorich. He is also survived by four stepchildren: Scott, Don, and Dave Campbell, and Lori Campbell Teufert; and one step-grandson, Derrick Hyde.
Services were held on September 18, 2009, at the First Baptist Church of St. Francisville, of which Rarick was a member. He is interred beside his first wife at Star Hill Cemetery off U.S. Highway 61 and Louisiana Highway 966 near St. Francisville.
Rarick's papers have been donated to Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.