Arthur J. Goldberg


Name Arthur J. Goldberg
Born August 8 1908
Died January 19 1990
Birth Location Chicago

Labor lawyer, Supreme Court justice, and member of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC). A civil libertarian and New Deal liberal, Arthur J. Goldberg (1908–90) was one of the staunchest advocates of reparations as a CWRIC commissioner.

He was born on August 8, 1908, in Chicago, the youngest of seven children of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, his father Joseph having arrived in 1890. He grew up in a poor, working class and largely Jewish neighborhood; his father scraped out a living as a peddler of produce. When Joseph died in 1916, several of Arthur's siblings had to quit school to help support the family and to allow the precocious youth to continue his education. Upon graduation from Benjamin Harrison Public High School at age 16 in 1924, he received a scholarship to Crane Junior College and went on to graduate from Northwestern in 1927. He continued on to law school at Northwestern, emerging as a top student and editor in chief of the Illinois Law Review. He graduated in 1929 with a JSD degree at age 21 and had to sue to overturn the age limit on bar membership. He went into practice with Pritzger and Pritzger, one of few Chicago law firms that would hire a Jew. Frustrated with the many depression era bankruptcy related cases he was being assigned, he left in 1933 to start his own law office.

Having become active in the Civil Liberties Committee in Chicago, he became involved in an acrimonious newspaper strike in Chicago that moved his practice in the direction of labor law. Over the next two decades, he became one of the country's leading labor lawyers, becoming general counsel for the CIO and the United Steelworkers of America in 1948 and a legal adviser in the merger of the AFL and CIO in 1955. He was also active in Democratic Party circles and was appointed President Kennedy's Secretary of Labor in 1961. Twenty months later, Kennedy appointed him to the Supreme Court, replacing the retiring Felix Frankfurter. As a member of the activist Warren Court, Goldberg was involved in many decisions that expanded civil liberties and the role of government. In a history changing moment, he stepped down from the Supreme Court after less than three years at the request of President Lyndon Johnson to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Goldberg has explained his decision as patriotic duty, feeling he could have a greater impact in helping to end American involvement in Vietnam, which he strongly opposed. However, he was unable to have the impact he had anticipated and resigned in 1968. He subsequently ran for governor of New York in 1970, losing by a wide margin to incumbent Nelson Rockefeller.

Working as a lawyer in private practice, he was appointed to the CWRIC by the House of Representatives. As a CWRIC commissioner, Goldberg was one of the few already knowledgeable about the wartime incarceration, having previously advised the Japanese American Citizens League on redress strategy. He also had a Japanese American legal secretary during the war who had been briefly detained. He emerged as a strong advocate of reparations and was one of three commissioners who advocated larger payments than were ultimately recommended. He later referred to the incarceration as "one of the most monstrous injustices ever committed in our society" remarked that the name of the commission, rather than including euphemistic terms such as "relocation" and "internment," should have been "'Committee on Concentration Camps in which Japanese Americans were placed during World War II." Goldberg later spoke at the opening of the exhibition A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans & the U.S. Constitution at the Smithsonian in 1987.[1]

He died of a heart attack on January 19, 1990.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

"Arthur J. Goldberg: Biographical Note." "The Supreme Court Papers of Arthur J. Goldberg," Pritzker Legal Research Center, Northwestern Law.

Murray, Alice Yang. Historical Memories of the Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Pace, Eric. "Arthur J. Goldberg Dies at 81; Ex-Justice and Envoy to U.N." New York Times, Jan. 20, 1990.

Stebenne, David. Arthur J. Goldberg: New Deal Liberal. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Footnotes

  1. Hawaii Herald, May 21, 1982, p. 7; Alice Yang Murray, Historical Memories of the Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), 349, 353, 392.