Goldberg, Arthur J.

Alternative names
Birth 1908-08-08
Death 1990-01-19

Biographical notes:

Arthur Joseph Goldberg was born August 8, 1908, in Chicago, Illinois, the youngest of eight children of Russian immigrants. His father, a produce peddler, died in 1916, forcing his siblings to quit school and go to work to support the family. As the youngest child, he was allowed to continue school, graduating from high school at age 16. He received a Bachelor of Science in Law from Northwestern, magna cum laude, at age 19 in 1929. He became the editor-in-chief of the ¿Illinois Law Review,¿ the Northwestern University law journal. He applied for admission in October, 1929, into the Illinois Bar Association (IBA). Disinclined to accept so young an applicant, the IBA admitted him only after a successful litigation of the issue. In 1930, Northwestern awarded him the JSD (Juris Scientiae Doctor) degree. In 1931, he married Dorothy Kurgans (August 1, 1908-February 13, 1988). 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 during World War II as an Army officer and as a contact with the European underground labor movement. He was appointed general counsel to the CIO in 1948, Goldberg served as a negotiator and chief legal advisor in the merger of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and CIO in 1955. He played a key role in AFL-CIO policies aimed at ending corrupt union practices among affiliates. President Kennedy appointed Goldberg Secretary of Labor and he served from January 21, 1961 to September 20, 1962. While Secretary, he set up the President''s Commission on the Status of Women and built support for raising the federal minimum wage, extending fair labor standards to additional groups of workers and increasing unemployment and Social Security benefits. During the infamous 1962 steel crisis, Goldberg, backed by President Kennedy and the Justice Department, convinced steel executives to rescind their announced price increase because it violated the noninflationary contract they had just negotiated with the Steelworkers. President Kennedy appointed him an associate justice of the Supreme Court replacing Felix Frankfurter. He served from October 1, 1962 to July 25, 1965. Perhaps his most influential move on the Court involved the death penalty. He 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. He was the first to argue this position: prior to his memo, no Supreme Court case had addressed the question of whether the death penalty violated the Eighth Amendment. Finding support in this position from only one other justice William J. Brennan, 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 5 nations responded indicated on a United Nations survey that they allowed imposition of the death penalty for rape, including the U.S., and that 33 states in the U.S. have outlawed the practice. His 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. In 1965, Goldberg was persuaded by President Johnson to resign his seat on the court to replace the late Adlai Stevenson as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. In that post, he clashed with Johnson over the course of the Vietnam War. He resigned from the ambassadorship in 1968. In 1970, he ran unsuccessfully for Governor of New York, defeated by incumbent Nelson Rockefeller. Subsequently, he returned to law practice in Washington, D.C., and served as President of the American Jewish Committee. Under President Jimmy Carter, he served as United States Ambassador to the Belgrade Conference on Human Rights in 1977, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1978. He died on January 18, 1990, of a heart attack, and was buried in Section 21 of Arlington National Cemetery.

From the description of Goldberg, Arthur J. (Arthur Joseph), 1908-1990 (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration). naId: 10679523

Biographical Note

  • 1908, Aug. 8: Born, Chicago, Ill.
  • 1924 - 1926 : Attended Crane Junior College (City Colleges of Chicago), and DePaul University, Chicago, Ill.
  • 1929: Bachelor of Science in Law, Northwestern University, Chicago, Ill.
  • 1930: Doctor of Jurisprudence, Northwestern University, Chicago, Ill.
  • 1930 - 1933 : Practiced law, firm of Pritzker and Pritzker, Chicago, Ill.
  • 1931: Married Dorothy Kurgans (died 1988)
  • 1933 - 1948 : Private law practice in Chicago; specialized in labor law
  • 1938: Defended the Chicago Newspaper Guild during strike against the Hearst Corp.
  • 1942 - 1944 : Special assistant and chief of the Labor Division, Office of Strategic Services
  • 1945 - 1961 : Senior partner, Goldberg, Devoe, Shador and Mikva, Chicago, Ill.
  • 1948 - 1955 : General counsel, Congress of Industrial Organizations
  • 1948 - 1961 : General counsel, United Steelworkers of America
  • 1952 - 1961 : Senior partner, Goldberg, Feller and Bredhoff, Washington, D.C.
  • 1955: Involved in the merger of the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the American Federation of Labor to form the AFL-CIO
  • 1955 - 1961 : Special counsel, AFL-CIO
  • 1961 - 1962 : Secretary of labor
  • 1962 - 1965 : Associate justice, United States Supreme Court
  • 1965 - 1968 : Permanent representative of the United States to the United Nations with rank of ambassador
  • 1968 - 1971 : Senior partner, Paul, Weiss, Goldberg, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison, New York, N.Y.
  • 1970: Unsuccessful campaign for governor of New York
  • 1971 - 1990 : Returned to Washington, D.C., to practice law, write, and teach
  • 1977: Appointed ambassador-at-large
  • 1977 - 1978 : Chairman, United States delegation to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Belgrade, Yugoslavia
  • 1990, Jan. 19: Died, Washington, D.C.

From the guide to the Arthur J. Goldberg Papers, 1793-1990, (bulk 1941-1985), (Manuscript Division Library of Congress)

Arthur Joseph Goldberg was born on August 8, 1908, on the West Side of Chicago. He was the youngest of eight children born to Russian immigrant parents, Joseph and Rebecca Perlstein Goldberg. Goldberg's father was a peddler, delivering produce by horse-drawn wagon until his death in 1916. After his death, the older children were forced to quit school and go to work to support the family. As the youngest, Arthur Goldberg was able to continue his education. By the age of twelve, he was working at odd jobs, such as wrapping fish, selling shoes, and - his favorite -selling coffee to Cub fans at Wrigley Field during the prohibition years. By the time of his graduation from Benjamin Harrison Public High School at age sixteen, Goldberg had detennined to study law. His interest in legal matters was prompted by the well-publicized 1923 murder trial of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb.

Goldberg accepted a scholarship to Chicago's Crane Junior College and also enrolled in classes at DePaul University. In 1926, he began his study of law at the Northwestern University School of Law, where he achieved a distinguished scholastic reputation. John Henry Wigmore, dean of the Northwestern School of Law, selected Goldberg to assist in the preparation of the third edition of his celebrated Treatise on Evidence . Goldberg also became the editor-in-chief ofthe Illinois Law Review, the Northwestern University law journal. He received a Bachelor of Science in Law from Northwestern, magna cum laude, at age 19 in 1929. Goldberg applied for admission in October, 1929, into the Illinois Bar Association. Disinclined to accept so young an applicant, the IBA admitted Goldberg only after a successful litigation of the issue. In 1930, Northwestern awarded him the JSD (Juris Scientiae Doctor) degree.

On July 18, 1931, Goldberg married Dorothy Kurgans, an art student at Northwestern University. They had two children: Barbara in 1936, and Robert in 1941. Goldberg began his legal career in 1929 as an associate in the firm of Kamfner, Horowitz, Halligan, and Daniels. Prior to joining the firm as an associate, Goldberg was employed as a clerk to that firm. In 1931, he joined Pritzker and Pritzker. As he saw the Great Depression taking its toll on the working American, Goldberg's interest in labor law increased. He left Pritzker and Pritzker in 1933 and opened his own law practice under the name of Arthur 1. Goldberg. In 1938, on behalf of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), Goldberg represented the Chicago newspaper employees striking for higher wages and better working conditions. During World War II, Goldberg served from Captain to Major in the United States Army. From 1945-1947, Goldberg was a partner of Goldberg and Devoe. Then in 1947, he became senior partner of Goldberg, Devoe, Shadur, & Mikva in Chicago. In 1948, Goldberg was appointed general counsel for the CIO and the United Steelworkers of America. He participated in and was a legal advisor on the merger of American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the CIO in 1955.

Goldberg was senior partner of Goldberg, Feller & Bredhoffin Washington from 1952 to 1961. He was active in the Civil Liberties Committee and served as a public director of Chicago's Amalgamated Labor Bank. He was briefly a member of the National Lawyers Guild.

By this time, Goldberg had established a name for himself in the Democratic Party and was becoming an important figure in national politics. It was no surprise when President John F. Kennedy appointed him to be Secretary of Labor in 1961. Then, just twenty months later, after Felix Frankfurter resigned from the Supreme Court due to poor health, Kennedy nominated Goldberg to fill the empty seat. Such an appointment had been a dream of Goldberg's since law school, and he was deeply honored when the Senate confirmed his nomination. Goldberg took his place on the bench in September 1962.

Goldberg joined the Court just as the Civil Rights movement was beginning to shake America, and many of the decisions made by the Court were related to this issue. Among the noteworthy cases argued before the Court during Goldberg's tenure were Escobedo v. Illinois (1964), Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Committee (1963), and Zemel v. Rusk (1965).

Three years after Goldberg took his seat on the Supreme Court, President Lyndon Johnson asked him to step down and accept an appointment as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. At first, Goldberg declined the offer, but after much prodding by Johnson, he finally accepted. Goldberg's change of mind was prompted by his sense of duty to the country during the war in Vietnam. He said, “I thought I could persuade Johnson that we were fighting the wrong war in the wrong place, [and] to get out. … I would have love to have stayed on the Court, but my sense of priorities was [that] this war would be disastrous” (Stebenne, 348). On July 26, 1965, Goldberg assumed the responsibilities of Ambassador to the UN.

The ambassadorship proved frustrating for Goldberg, involving many confrontations with Johnson concerning the war in Vietnam. Goldberg came to believe that he could affect American foreign policy better as a private citizen than through a governmental position, and on April 23, 1968, he resigned from the ambassadorship. He returned to the practice of law in New York City from 1968-71 with the firm of Paul, Weiss, Goldberg, Ritkind, Wharton, & Garrison.

In 1970, he ran for Governor of New York against the incumbent Nelson Rockefeller. Rockefeller won re-election by a sizeable margin, about 700,000 votes out of3.5 million cast. After his humbling loss, Goldberg eventually returned to his farm in Marshall, Virginia, and to the private practice of law in Washington, DC.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter called upon Goldberg's abilities as a diplomat and negotiator and appointed him United States Ambassador to the Belgrade Conference on Human Rights. For his distinguished service to the nation, Goldberg received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1978.

Goldberg wrote three books: AFL-CIO: Labor United (1956), Defenses of Freedom (1966), and Equal Justice: The Warren Era of the Supreme Court (1972). He also wrote numerous articles concerning legal matters, foreign affairs, and diplomacy. He received several awards and honors from a variety of organizations and institutions including his alma mater, Northwestern University. Goldberg also participated in many different advisory committees, community groups, and legal organizations such as the American Bar Association, the American Jewish Committee, the Illinois State Bar Association, the Jewish Center for the United Nations, and the International Judicial Conference.

Goldberg died of a heart attack on January 19, 1990. This was his second heart attack since the death of his wife in 1988. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery next to his wife and near his friend, Chief Justice Earl Warren.

Note: This biography is based largely on David L. Stebenne, Arthur J. Goldberg (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).

From the guide to the Arthur J. Goldberg (1908-1990) Records, ca. 1961-1978, (Northwestern University Pritzker Legal Research Center)


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