Goldberg, Arthur J. Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Although he served on the Supreme Court for only three terms, Goldberg provided an articulate and highly influential voice on individual liberties, labor issues, and social justice. He was a key player in several significant decisions by Earl Warren’s court, especially those that expanded constitutional rights.

The eleventh and last child of immigrant Russian Jews, GoldbergJews;Goldberg, Arthur grew up in one of the poorest sections of Chicago. He worked his way through college and then Northwestern Law School, where he graduated summa cum laude and first in his class. At age twenty, Goldberg was technically too young to be admitted to the Illinois bar; he sued, argued his own case, and won when the judge waived the age restriction for the young lawyer.Kennedy, John F.;nominations to the Court

Association with Organized Labor

Despite his outstanding academic record and obvious intelligence, Goldberg was not offered a position with any of the more prestigious Chicago law firms because of anti-Semitic prejudice. He began work with a firm that specialized in property law, including foreclosure on mortgages. Goldberg, who knew firsthand the devastation that the Great Depression was causing, detested the work, and in 1933 he left to form his own law office, specializing in labor law cases.

Goldberg soon had established what would be a long and close association with organized labor in the United States. In 1938 and 1939 Goldberg was lead counsel for the Newspaper Guild in its bitter battle against the two Chicago newspapers owned and run by William Randolph Hearst. The strike finally ended in May, 1940, but soon after, the Hearst papers closed. However, Goldberg had established his credentials with organized laborLabor and soon was heavily involved with groups such as the Steelworkers Organizing Committee and the Congress of Industrial Organizations. As Goldberg rose higher in the counsels of labor, he was called on more frequently to act as a negotiator, especially in difficult or complex issues.

During the years before World War II (1941-1945), Goldberg took a more active role in civic affairs, for example, joining the Chicago chapter of the White Committee, a group formed by liberal Republican newspaper editor William Allen White to support aid to Great Britain and the other powers fighting Nazi Germany. As member of the White Committee, Goldberg came to know Adlai Stevenson, then a rising star in the Democratic Party.

When World War II began, Goldberg enlisted and served in the Office of Strategic Services, where he helped organize and supply French labor unions in their efforts to resist Nazi occupation of their country.

Service on the Court

Jews;on the Court[court] Goldberg, a strong supporter of Stevenson during the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections, backed John F. Kennedy in his quest for the Democratic nomination and then the presidency in 1960. When Kennedy was elected, he appointed Goldberg to serve as secretary of labor. Just a year later, on August 28, 1962, Kennedy selected Goldberg to take the seat of Felix Frankfurter, who was retiring from the Supreme Court. Goldberg was approved by the Senate at the end of September.

As a justice, Goldberg quickly showed himself a champion of individual liberties and civil rights. A strong supporter of nonenumerated rights (those not specifically named but clearly implied in the U.S. Constitution), Goldberg sought to expand these rights even further, especially those associated with the Ninth Amendment. A dependable ally of Chief Justice Earl Warren, Goldberg helped lead the Court to take a decisive stand in a number of major cases, three of them in particular with lasting constitutional impact.

In Gideon v. Wainwright[case]Gideon v. Wainwright[Gideon v. Wainwright] (1963), the Court held that a criminal defendant could not be denied legal representation simply because he or she could not afford to pay for an attorney. One of the most famous and influential cases in U.S. legal history, Gideon fundamentally transformed the nation’s criminal justice system. Taking the lead in Escobedo v. Illinois[case]Escobedo v. Illinois[Escobedo v. Illinois] (1964), Goldberg argued that coerced confessions,Coerced confessions such as that gained from the suspect in this case, were unconstitutional. Finally, in his concurrence in the Court’s ruling on Griswold v. Connecticut[case]Griswold v. Connecticut[Griswold v. Connecticut] (1965), Goldberg joined with his brethren to affirm the constitutional right to privacy, in this case marital privacy involving contraception and birth control. Eight years later, in 1973, the Court would look back on Griswold as a significant precedent in its decision to legalize abortion in Roe v. Wade.

Life after the Court

In August, 1965, at the urging of President Lyndon B. Johnson,Johnson, Lyndon B. Goldberg resigned from the Supreme Court to take the position of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Although many wondered at the decision, Goldberg explained he felt a sense of public duty, especially in efforts to negotiate an end to the escalating conflict in Vietnam.Vietnam War;Goldberg, Arthur J.[Goldberg, Arthur J.] However, he was unsuccessful in his efforts and, finding himself increasingly at odds with the Johnson administration’s use of ever greater military force, Goldberg resigned on April 23, 1968.

In 1970 Goldberg narrowly won the Democratic primary nomination for governor of New York. However, the campaign was a difficult one, and Goldberg was decisively defeated by Republican Nelson A. Rockefeller, who won his fourth term in the November election. Leaving partisan politics, Goldberg remained active in public life and in 1977 and 1978 served as ambassador at large for President Jimmy CarterCarter, Jimmy;Goldberg, Arthur J.[Goldberg, Arthur J.]. Carter honored Goldberg with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1978. Goldberg returned to the practice of law and died in Washington, D.C., in 1990.Goldberg, Arthur J.

Further Reading
  • Bader, William H., and Roy M. Mersky, eds. The First One Hundred Eight Justices. Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein, 2004.
  • Cushman, Clare, ed. The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies. 2d ed. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 1995.
  • Stebenne, David. Arthur J. Goldberg: New Deal Liberal. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Urofsky, Melvin I. The Warren Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2001.

Barker v. Wingo

Birth control and contraception

Counsel, right to

Escobedo v. Illinois

Gideon v. Wainwright

Griswold v. Connecticut

Ninth Amendment

Warren, Earl

Categories: History Content