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Arthur Goldberg

In office
September 28, 1962[1] – July 2, 1965
Nominated by John F. Kennedy
Preceded by Felix Frankfurter
Succeeded by Abe Fortas

In office
January 21, 1961 – September 20, 1962
President John F. Kennedy
Preceded by James P. Mitchell
Succeeded by W. Willard Wirtz

In office
1965 – 1968
President Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded by Adlai Stevenson
Succeeded by George W. Ball

Born August 8, 1908(1908-08-08)
Chicago, Illinois
Died January 19, 1990 (aged 81)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Dorothy Kurgans
Children Barbara (Goldberg) Cramer
Robert Goldberg
Alma mater Northwestern University School of Law

Arthur Joseph Goldberg (August 8, 1908 – January 19, 1990) was an American statesman and jurist who served as the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Supreme Court Justice and Ambassador to the United Nations.


Early life

Goldberg was born and raised on the West Side of Chicago, the youngest of eight children of Jewish immigrants. The paternal side of the family (Goldberg-Flaumen) originally came from the town of Oświęcim (German: Auschwitz, Yiddish Oshpitsin אָשפּיצין ),Poland. The maternal side of the family originally came from a shtetl called Zenkhov in the Ukraine. Goldberg's father, a produce peddler, died in 1916, forcing Goldberg's siblings to quit school and go to work to support the family. As the youngest child, Goldberg was allowed to continue school, graduating from high school at age 16.

Goldberg's interest in the law was sparked by the famous 1923 murder trial of Leopold and Loeb, wealthy young Chicagoans who were spared the death penalty with the help of their high-powered defense attorney, Clarence Darrow. Goldberg would later point to this case as inspiration for his opposition to the death penalty on the bench, as he saw how inequality of social status could lead to unfair application of the death penalty.

Goldberg earned a distinguished reputation as a student at both DePaul University and later the Northwestern University School of Law, where he edited the law review, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 1930.

In 1931, Goldberg married art student Dorothy Kurgans. They had one daughter, Barbara (Cramer), and a son, Robert.

During World War II, Goldberg served in a spy ring operated by the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the CIA; Goldberg's involvement was not disclosed publicly until 2008.[2] The Jewish Telegraphic Agency stated that: "Goldberg's file notes that as both a civilian and a member of the army, he supervised a section in the Secret Intelligence Branch of OSS to maintain contact with labor groups and organizations regarded as potential resistance elements in enemy-occupied and enemy countries. He organized anti-Nazi European transportation workers into an extensive intelligence network." [3]

Labor lawyer and Kennedy Administration

Goldberg became a prominent labor lawyer, representing striking Chicago newspaper workers on behalf of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1938. He served in the Office of Strategic Services as chief of the Labor Desk, an autonomous division of the American intelligence agency that was charged with the task of cultivating contacts and networks within the European underground labor movement during World War II. Appointed general counsel to the CIO in 1948, Goldberg served as a negotiator and chief legal adviser in the merger of the American Federation of Labor and CIO in 1955. Goldberg also served as general counsel of the United Steelworkers of America.

Goldberg was by this time a prominent figure in the Democratic Party and in labor union politics. President John F. Kennedy appointed Goldberg to two positions. The first was United States secretary of labor, where he served from 1961 to 1962. As secretary, he served as a mentor to the young Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The second was as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, replacing Felix Frankfurter, who had resigned because of poor health.

The official portrait of Arthur J. Goldberg hangs in the Department of Labor

Supreme Court

Despite his short time on the bench, Goldberg played a significant role in the Court's jurisprudence, as his liberal views on Constitutional questions shifted the Court's balance toward a broader construction of constitutional rights. His best-known opinion came in the case of Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), arguing that the Ninth Amendment supported the existence of an unenumerated right of privacy.

Perhaps Goldberg's most influential move on the Court involved the death penalty. Goldberg argued in a 1963 internal Supreme Court memorandum that imposition of the death penalty was condemned by the international community and should be regarded as "cruel and unusual punishment," in contravention of the Eighth Amendment. Goldberg was the first to argue this position: prior to Goldberg's memo, no Supreme Court case had addressed the question of whether the death penalty violated the Eighth Amendment. Finding support in this position from two other justices (William J. Brennan and William O. Douglas), Goldberg published an opinion dissenting from the Court's denial of certiorari in a case, Rudolph v. Alabama, involving the imposition of the death penalty for rape, in which Goldberg cited the fact that only five nations responding to a United Nations survey indicated that they allowed imposition of the death penalty for rape, including the U.S., and that 33 states in the U.S. had outlawed the practice.

Goldberg's dissent sent a signal to lawyers across the nation to challenge the constitutionality of capital punishment in appeals. As a result of the influx of appeals, the death penalty effectively ceased to exist in the United States for the remainder of the 1960s and 1970s, and the Supreme Court considered the issue in the 1972 case of Furman v. Georgia, where the Justices, in a 5 to 4 decision, effectively suspended the death penalty laws of states across the country on the ground of the capricious imposition of the penalty. That decision would be revisited in 1976's Gregg v. Georgia, where the justices voted to allow the death penalty under some circumstances; the death penalty for rape of an adult female victim, however, would be struck down in 1977's Coker v. Georgia. In 2008 the death penalty for rape of children was ruled unconstitutional by a 5 to 4 decision (Kennedy v. Louisiana).

During his tenure on the Supreme Court, one of his law clerks was future associate justice Stephen Breyer. Another was prominent criminal law professor Alan Dershowitz. Goldberg resigned from the Supreme Court to become the U.S. ambassador to the U.N, in what has been described as a calculated move by Lyndon Johnson in order for Johnson to appoint his longtime friend Abe Fortas to Goldberg's seat (which some at that time called the "Jewish seat" on the Court).[4][5]

Resignation from the Supreme Court

In 1965, Goldberg was persuaded by President Johnson to resign his seat on the court to replace the late Adlai Stevenson as the Ambassador to the United Nations. Johnson wanted to appoint his friend Abe Fortas to the court,[5] in case any of his Great Society reforms were going to be deemed unconstitutional by the Court; he thought Fortas would notify him in advance.[6] Goldberg declined to leave his position to be Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.[6] He did take Johnson's offer of the UN ambassadorship when Johnson discussed it with him on Air Force One to Illinois for the burial of Adlai Stevenson, however.[6]

Goldberg wrote in his memoirs that he resigned in order to have influence in keeping the peace in Vietnam and that after the crisis had passed he expected he would be reappointed to the Supreme Court by Johnson. "I had an exaggerated opinion of my capacities. I thought I could persuade Johnson that we were fighting the wrong war in the wrong place [and] to get out."[7]

David Stebenne, Goldberg's biographer, adds "Many observers, then and later, found this answer hard to accept." He suggests that "Johnson must have had some influence over Goldberg that induced him [to resign from the Supreme Court]." Johnson knew that for a party thrown in Johnson's honor in 1962, a Goldberg aide Jerry Holleman solicited contributions from wealthy supporters of Johnson including Billy Sol Estes. Holleman accepted responsibility and there was no public awareness of Goldberg and Johnson's involvement.[8]

Johnson said of the Goldberg decision in his later-released audio tapes:

Goldberg would be able to answer the Russians... very effectively... He's got a bulldog face on him, and I think this Jew thing would take The New York Times-- all this crowd that gives me hell all the time-- and disarm them. And still have a Johnson man. I've always thought that Goldberg was the ablest man in Kennedy's Cabinet, and he was the best man to us.... Goldberg sold bananas, you know.... He's kind of like I am... He's shined some shoes in his day and he's sold newspapers, and he's had to slug it out...[6]

UN Ambassador

In 1967, Goldberg was a key drafter of Resolution 242, which followed the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and the Arab states. While interpretation of that resolution has subsequently become controversial, Goldberg was very clear that the resolution does not obligate Israel to withdraw from all of the captured territories. He stated that:

The notable omissions in language used to refer to withdrawal are the words the, all, and the June 5, 1967, lines. I refer to the English text of the resolution. The French and Soviet texts differ from the English in this respect, but the English text was voted on by the Security Council, and thus it is determinative. In other words, there is lacking a declaration requiring Israel to withdraw from the (or all the) territories occupied by it on and after June 5, 1967. Instead, the resolution stipulates withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal. And it can be inferred from the incorporation of the words secure and recognized boundaries that the territorial adjustments to be made by the parties in their peace settlements could encompass less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories [italics by Goldberg].[9]

Goldberg's role as the UN ambassador during the Six-Day War may have been the reason why Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Bobby Kennedy, also wanted to assassinate Goldberg.[10]

Subsequent career

Frustrated with the war in Vietnam, Goldberg resigned from the ambassadorship in 1968 and accepted a senior partnership with the New York law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. Longing to return to the bench, Goldberg later claimed that he was Earl Warren's preference to succeed him when the chief justice announced his retirement in 1968, but President Johnson selected Abe Fortas instead.[11] After Fortas's nomination was withdrawn in the face of Senate opposition, Johnson briefly considered naming Goldberg chief justice as a recess appointment before rejecting the idea.[12]

With the prospect of a return to the Supreme Court closed to him by the election of Richard Nixon, Goldberg contemplated a run for elected office. Initially considering a challenge to Charles Goodell's reelection to the United States Senate, he decided to run against New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1970. Though the former justice initially polled well, a contested primary and Goldberg's own poor skills as a campaigner, coupled with Rockefeller's formidable advantages, resulted in a 700,000 margin of victory for the incumbent Republican.[13]

After his defeat Goldberg returned to law practice in Washington, D.C., and served as President of the American Jewish Committee.[14] In 1972, Goldberg returned to the Supreme Court as a lawyer, representing Curt Flood in Flood v. Kuhn. His oral argument was referred to by one observer as "one of the worst arguments I'd ever heard - by one of the smartest men I've ever known..."[15] Under President Jimmy Carter, Goldberg served as United States Ambassador to the Belgrade Conference on Human Rights in 1977, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1978.

Goldberg died in 1990. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.[16][17]


  1. ^ "Federal Judicial Center: Arthur Goldberg". 2009-12-12. Retrieved 2009-12-12.  
  2. ^ Chef Julia Child, others, part of WWII spy network, Associated Press., August 14, 2008.
  3. ^
  4. ^ James Taranto, Leonard Leo (2004). Presidential Leadership. Wall Street Journal Books. Retrieved 2008-10-20.  
  5. ^ a b David A. Kaplan (1989-09-04). "The Reagan Court - Child of Lyndon Johnson?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-20.  
  6. ^ a b c d Michael Beschloss (2001). Reaching for Glory. Simon and Schuster. Retrieved 2008-10-20.  
  7. ^ Stebenne, David L. (1996). Arthur J. Goldberg, New Deal Liberal. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 348–351. ISBN 0-19-50710-50.  
  8. ^ Editors of Time (May 18, 1962). "Tauter & Tauter". Time.,9171,896159,00.html?iid=chix-sphere. Retrieved 2008-05-28. "Just two days before Holleman confirmed that he had asked Estes and other Texans to pick up the tab for a January dinner Labor Secretary Arthur Goldberg gave for Lyndon Johnson, but said he backed off when he learned that Goldberg's policy was to pay for all such dinners himself. Goldberg promptly offered to produce canceled checks to prove he had paid for the dinner. Said Holleman of Billie Sol, in words reminiscent of a previous Democratic Administration: "I have not and I never will deny him as a friend."".  
  9. ^ "UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338".  
  10. ^ Slaying gave US a first taste of Mideast terror -
  11. ^ Bernard Schwartz, Super Chief: Earl Warren and his Supreme Court (New York: New York University Press, 1983), p. 720.
  12. ^ Stebenne, Goldberg, 373.
  13. ^ Ibid, p. 375-8.
  14. ^ Jewish Virtual Library, Arthur Goldberg.
  15. ^ Dan Levitt, quoted in Brad Snyder, Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports, p. 281
  16. ^ Arthur Goldberg memorial at Find a Grave.
  17. ^

Further reading

  • Abraham, Henry J. (1992). Justices and Presidents: A Political History of Appointments to the Supreme Court (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506557-3.  
  • Cushman, Clare (2001). The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, 1789–1995 (2nd ed.). (Supreme Court Historical Society, Congressional Quarterly Books). ISBN 1568021267.  
  • Frank, John P. (1995). Friedman, Leon; Israel, Fred L.. eds. The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions. Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 0791013774.  
  • Goldberg, Arthur J. AFL-CIO: Labor United. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1956.
  • Goldberg, Arthur J. Equal Justice: The Supreme Court in the Warren Era. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1971. ISBN 081010363X
  • Goldberg, Arthur J. The Defenses of Freedom: The Public Papers of Arthur J. Goldberg. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, ed. 1st ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.
  • Hall, Kermit L., ed (1992). The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195058356.  
  • Martin, Fenton S.; Goehlert, Robert U. (1990). The U.S. Supreme Court: A Bibliography. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Books. ISBN 0871875543.  
  • Stebenne, David (1996). Arthur J. Goldberg: New Deal Liberal. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195071050.  
  • Urofsky, Melvin I. (1994). The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Garland Publishing. pp. 590. ISBN 0815311761.  

See also

External links


Political offices
Preceded by
James P. Mitchell
United States Secretary of Labor
Served under: John F. Kennedy

January 21, 1961 – September 20, 1962
Succeeded by
W. Willard Wirtz
Legal offices
Preceded by
Felix Frankfurter
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
September 28, 1962 – July 25, 1965
Succeeded by
Abe Fortas
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Adlai Stevenson
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
1965 – 1968
Succeeded by
George W. Ball
Party political offices
Preceded by
Frank D. O'Connor
Democratic Nominee for Governor of New York
Succeeded by
Hugh Carey


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