Jackson, Robert Houghwout

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Robert Houghwout Jackson served as general counsel for the Federal Bureau of Internal Revenue, attorney general of the United States, and justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. During his service on the Court from 1941 to 1954 Jackson delivered unconventional opinions that did not always coincide with those of the president who had appointed him, franklin d. roosevelt. Jackson was nonetheless chosen to be chief counsel at the nuremberg trials following world war ii.

Jackson's straightforward style as a lawyer and a justice stemmed from his rural upbringing.

The first Jacksons immigrated to the United States from England in 1819. They settled in Spring Creek, Pennsylvania, where Jackson was born on February 13, 1892. His father, William Eldred Jackson, provided for the family through farming and lumbering.

In September 1911 Jackson entered Albany Law School, passing the bar in 1913. He then began a lengthy career with the establishment of a law practice at Jamestown, New York, and formed a friendship with fellow New Yorker Roosevelt.

In 1934 Jackson was selected by the recently elected president Roosevelt to serve as general

counsel for the Federal Bureau of Internal Revenue. In 1936 he became assistant attorney general of the United States, a position he held until 1938. Between 1938 and 1939, he performed the duties of U.S. solicitor general. He acted as the U.S. attorney general from 1940 until his appointment in July 1941 as justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jackson earned the trust and admiration of his associates through his wit and wisdom. Many of his philosophies on essential constitutional issues came to be known as Jacksonisms. Throughout his career he withheld blind praise of the U.S. system of government. He stated, "A free man must be a reasoning man, and he must dare to doubt what a legislative or electoral majority may most passionately assert" (American Communications Ass'n v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382 70 S. Ct. 674, 94 L. Ed. 925 [1950]).

Jackson voted against government actions that imposed upon free speech and religion, and voiced mistrust of labor unions. Many of his opinions were dissents from a majority that tended to uphold union interests and to support new deal legislation.

Following the end of the second world war, Jackson was chosen as chief counsel for the United States at the Nuremberg trials, where Nazi leaders were tried for war crimes. Included among the defendants was Hermann Goering, second in command of the Nazi regime, and Adolf Hitler's designated successor.

In his opening remarks before Goering's trial began, Jackson noted the place of the proceddings in history when he said:

We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well. We must summon such detachment and intellectual integrity to our task that this trial will commend itself to posterity as fulfilling humanity's aspirations to do justice.

On September 30 and October 1, 1946, the Nuremberg tribunal found nineteen of the twenty-two defendants guilty on one or more counts. Twelve defendants, including Goering, were sentenced to death by hanging.

For his success at Nuremberg, Jackson received a number of honors in the United States, including honorary doctoral degrees from Dartmouth College and Syracuse University. Recognition also came from other nations, including honorary degrees in law from the University of Brussels and the University of Warsaw.

"It is not the function of our Government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the Government from falling into error."
—Robert jackson

After the trials, Jackson continued his service on the Court. He died on October 9, 1954.

further readings

Barrett, John Q. 2002. "A Jackson Portrait for Jamestown, 'A Magnet in the Room.'" Buffalo Law Review 50 (fall): 809–17.

Barry, Graeme A. 2000. "'The Gifted Judge': An Analysis of the Judicial Career of Robert H. Jackson." Alberta Law Review 38 (November): 880–902.

Demon, Charles S., et al. 1969. Mr. Justice Jackson: Four Lectures in His Honor. New York: William Nelson Crumble Foundation, Columbia Univ. Press.

Gerhart, Eugene C. 2003. Robert H. Jackson: Country Lawyer, Supreme Court Justice, America's Advocate. Buffalo, N.Y.: W. S. Hein; Jamestown, N.Y.: R H. Jackson Center.

——. 1961. Lawyer's Judge. Albany: Q Corp.

——. 1958. America's Advocate: Robert H. Jackson. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

Jackson, Robert H. 1951. Wartime Security and Liberty under Law. Buffalo: Univ. of Buffalo School of Law.

——. 1947. The Naürnberg Case. New York: Knopf.

Prosaic, Joseph E. 1994. Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial. New York: Penguin Books.

Rosenbaum, Alan S. 1993. Prosecuting Nazi War Criminals. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.

Schubert, Glendon. 1969. Dispassionate Justice: A Synthesis of the Judicial Opinions of Robert H. Jackson. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

Taylor, Telford. 1992. The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials. New York: Knopf.

U.S. Supreme Court. 1955. Proceedings of the Bar and Officers of the Supreme Court of the United States, April 4, 1955, and Proceedings before the Supreme Court of the United States, April 4, 1955, in Memory of Robert Houghwout Jackson. Washington, D.C.: United States Supreme Court Bar.

Robert Houghwout Jackson

views updated May 17 2018

Robert Houghwout Jackson

Robert Houghwout Jackson (1892-1954) was an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and chief American prosecutor at the Nuremberg war trials.

Robert H. Jackson was born on Feb. 13, 1892, in Spring Creek, Pa. He spent a year at the Albany Law School, apprenticed with a local lawyer, and was admitted to the bar in 1913. He set up practice in Jamestown, N.Y.

A passionate Democrat, Jackson supported New York's governor Franklin Roosevelt. After Roosevelt's election to the U.S. presidency in 1932, Jackson went to Washington to serve as general counsel of the Bureau of Internal Revenue. After serving as assistant attorney general in charge of the Tax Division of the Department of Justice, and then as head of the Antitrust Division, he was named solicitor general in 1938. In 1940 he became attorney general and in 1941 took his oath as associate justice of the Supreme Court.

During Jackson's tenure one of the chief public issues was the role and power of the Supreme Court. In his book The Struggle for Judicial Supremacy (1941) Jackson castigated the Court's willingness to establish itself as a superlegislature over the decisions of the popularly elected Congress and president; he called for a more restrained role. With some notable exceptions, Jackson continued this argument throughout his years on the Court. In one of his first major opinions, in 1942, the Federal government was granted extremely broad powers of economic regulation under the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution. Concerning the nation's economy, supremacy was placed firmly in the hands of Congress.

Devoted to civil liberties, Jackson worked to determine how the Court could protect unpopular minorities against persecution and oppression by inflamed majority rule. In 1943 he delivered an opinion for the Court upholding the constitutional right of Jehovah's Witnesses (a religious group) to refuse to salute the American flag. Toward the end of his life, however, he joined Justice Felix Frankfurter in thinking that the Court should play a relatively minor role in protecting civil liberties. In his posthumous The Supreme Court in the American System of Government (1955), Jackson attacked the civil libertarian views of his colleagues Hugo Black and William O. Douglas.

Justice Jackson left the Court for a year in 1945-1946 to serve as the chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg war trials in Germany. Two books by him came out of this experience: The Case against the Nazi War Criminals(1946) and The Nuremberg Case (1947). He died on Oct. 9, 1954, in Washington.

Further Reading

There is no scholarly biography of Jackson. Eugene C. Gerhart, America's Advocate: Robert H. Jackson (1958), is useful but biased in Jackson's favor. Dispassionate Justice: A Synthesis of the Judicial Opinions of Robert H. Jackson, edited by Glendon Schubert (1969), contains an interesting introduction. □

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