Arthur Joseph Goldberg

Arthur Joseph Goldberg (1908-1990), a leading American lawyer and public official, was U.S. secretary of labor, ambassador to the United Nations, and activist Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Arthur J. Goldberg was born on August 8, 1908, the youngest of 11 children whose immigrant parents were Russian Jews. He worked as a delivery boy for a shoe factory while acquiring an education in the Chicago public schools. Goldberg at times labored with construction gangs as he attended first Crane Junior College of the City College of Chicago, then Northwestern University, from which he received a B.S.L. degree in 1929.

Following graduation Goldberg was admitted to the Illinois bar and worked as an associate lawyer in a Chicago law firm. Law practice provided an income which enabled him to earn a law degree from Northwestern University in 1930. Shortly thereafter—on July 18, 1931—the young lawyer married Dorothy Kurgans; in the years to come two children, Barbara and Robert Michael, were born and raised. Until the United States entered World War II in 1941 Goldberg enjoyed a growing reputation in Chicago, particularly in the field of labor law after he represented the Newspaper Guild in a bitter strike in 1938.

Labor's Advocate

During World War II Goldberg established a distinguished record in the Office of Strategic Services as chief of the Labor Division in Europe. After victory in 1945 he returned to the practice of labor law, which was a growing field during the post-war years. As chief counsel for the United Steelworkers of America Goldberg achieved national stature as a champion of organized labor. Building on this experience he overcame enormous obstacles to bring about the merger of the American Federation of Labor (A.F. of L.) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (C.I.O.). This and other victories revealed the accuracy of one observer's assessment that Goldberg "proved to be an exceptionally able practitioner of the art of negotiating the terms of collective agreements at both the bargaining table and, on occasion, in the White House."

The leading role in the AFL-CIO merger brought Goldberg national preeminence. By 1958 he became a confidant of Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who had proposed significant labor reforms. During the senator's successful campaign for the presidency in 1960 Goldberg was one of Kennedy's closest advisers. It came as no surprise, then, that the new president appointed Goldberg as secretary of labor in 1961. Although he served for less than two years, he was extraordinarily effective in a wide range issues. Besides continued success as a labor negotiator, particularly with respect to strikes, Goldberg fought unemployment and worked for an increased minimum wage and for the elimination of racial discrimination in employment. He also initiated both a pilot program to train and place youths in jobs and the White House Conference on National Economic Issues and shaped the policies of the President's Advisory Committee on Labor-Management Relations. The motive behind all these efforts was the attainment of peace and the preservation of the public interest. What Secretary Goldberg said of the labor-mediating role was true for other areas as well: The secretary, as a mediator, "inevitably is driven to seeking peace…. He can hope that the settlement will prove fair and equitable to the public as well as to the involved parties, but this can be no more than hope, since sanctions are lacking and strong-willed parties are involved."

Became Supreme Court Justice

In 1962, after more than 20 years of exemplary service, Justice Felix Frankfurter resigned his seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Kennedy nominated Goldberg to fill this vacancy. Following Senate confirmation he exchanged the politically-charged environment of cabinet office for the more austere, but no less high-pressured, chambers of the nation's highest court. Although Goldberg served at this post for just three terms, from 1962 to 1965, he nonetheless left an indelible imprint on American constitutional law. He took his seat during a tumultuous era in which the Court pursued a course of almost unprecedented judicial activism. Goldberg joined a group of liberal Justices, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren and including William O. Douglas, Hugo L. Black, and William J. Brennan, Jr., who believed that the Court possessed a constitutional duty to actively pursue a course of social and legal change. In case after case the new Justice helped make a majority whose decision rested not upon precedents alone, but, as he said, on those principles so rooted in the "traditions and conscience" of the American people that they "ranked as fundamental." Several of the most significant areas in which the Warren Court adhered to an activist policy included racial desegregation, voting rights, the rights of criminal defendants, and freedom of expression.

A basic feature of the Warren Court's activism was an expansive reading of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which applied federal guarantees of equal protection of the law and due process to the states. The substance and scope of these guarantees was, however, uncertain. Goldberg and the other liberal Justices were often criticized for reading their own opinions as to what was fair or right into the meaning of these vague provisions. Yet they often did so in order to protect the rights of the dispossessed and unfortunate, and, as in the case of African Americans, those of persecuted minorities in general. At the same time, the liberals took controversial positions in decisions because they believed that in shielding the rights of the poor and weak, they were defending the individual rights of all Americans.

Perhaps no case illustrates Goldberg's and the Warren Court's judicial activism better than Escobedo v. Illinois (1964). In 1963 the Court decided that through the due process clause of the 14th Amendment the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of the right to counsel applied in all cases involving poor defendants in state courts. But this decision did not state how early in the criminal justice process the right to counsel existed. Did the right extend beyond the trial to the point of arrest, accusation, and interrogation? This question raised the issue of whether the right to counsel could be combined with the Fifth Amendment's guarantee against self incrimination. In the Escobedo case the police questioned the defendant, Danny Escobedo, in connection with the murder of his brother-in-law. Escobedo had not been indicted, and during this interrogation he repeatedly asked to talk with his lawyer, who at one point he saw in a nearby room. Yet the police rejected each request; eventually, he made an incriminating statement that the state used to convict him during the trial. On appeal, Escobedo claimed that the prejudicial statement should not have been allowed because he was denied the assistance of counsel. In the Supreme Court the State of Illinois argued that the state should not be required to provide counsel until the preliminary stages of the trial. Justice Goldberg, writing for the Court, rejected this contention, stressing that it would make the trial essentially an appeal from an unrestrained interrogation, rendering the protection of the Fifth and Sixth amendments "a very hollow thing."

Escobedo opened the way to other far-reaching and controversial decisions which enlarged the rights of those investigated for suspicion of or charged with crimes. To those cases, however, Justice Goldberg would not contribute.

Continued Public Service

In 1965 Goldberg resigned from the Court to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. President Lyndon B. Johnson, embroiled in an increasingly complex and tragic war in Vietnam, had asked Goldberg to accept the U.N. post, hoping that he might through his effective negotiating skills help achieve a just peace. Goldberg left the Court with reluctance. "I shall not, Mr. President, conceal the pain with which I leave the Court after three years of service," he wrote. "It has been the richest and most satisfying period of my career." Nevertheless, Goldberg, as he had throughout a lifetime of public service, approached the new responsibilities with resolution and enthusiasm. But although he achieved several significant accomplishments, particularly during the Arab-Israeli War of June 1967, the central goal of peace in Vietnam eluded him. Early in the summer of 1968 the former labor lawyer, U.S. secretary of labor, and Justice of the Supreme Court resigned the ambassadorship and returned to legal practice as a partner in a well-known New York law firm. In 1970 he was an unsuccessful candidate for governor of New York. After that, though no longer in public office, Goldberg maintained involvement in public affairs. He held faculty positions at Columbia, American University, Hastings College of Law, and the University of Alabama School of Law and remained an influential expert on labor law. Goldberg died on January 20, 1990.

Further Reading on Arthur Joseph Goldberg

There is a good survey of Arthur J. Goldberg's career, particularly as a Supreme Court Justice, in Leon Friedman and Fred L. Israel, editors, volume IV, The Justices of the United States Supreme Court, 1789-1969: Their Lives and Major Opinions (1969). His major opinions and speeches are collected in D. P. Moynihan, editor, Defenses of Freedom (1956). His book AFL-CIO: Labor United (1956) and essay "Law and the United Nations," 52 American Bar Association Journal 813 (1966) provide valuable insights into the man, his ideas, and his times. Good studies including a discussion of the Warren Court and Goldberg's contribution as an activist Justice are Henry Julian Abraham, Freedom and the Court: Civil Rights and Liberties in the United States (1967) and John Paul Frank, The Warren Court (1964).