Arthur Goldberg was an American politician, statesman, and Supreme Court Justice. He served as the 9th United States Secretary of Labor under John F. Kennedy, as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, also under Kennedy, and as the 6th United States Ambassador to the United Nations under Lyndon Johnson.
Arthur Joseph Goldberg was born on August 8, 1908 to Rebecca Pearlstein and Joseph Goldberg. His parents were Jewish immigrants to the United States and were originally from the Russian Empire. He was the youngest of eight children and was raised on the West Side of Chicago.
Goldberg’s father died in 1916 forcing his older siblings to leave school to work and earn livings for the family. Goldberg; however, was able to continue his studies and graduated from high school at the age of 16 in 1924. He entered DePaul University and then Northwestern University in 1926. At Northwestern Goldberg served as editor-in-chief of the Northwestern University Law Review, the university’s main law publication. In 1930, he graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in law. The next year Goldberg married Dorothy Kurgans, with whom he had two children, a daughter, Barbara Goldberg Cramer, and a son, Robert M. Goldberg.
Goldberg began his law career as an associate at Kamfer, Horowitz, Halligan, & Daniels in Chicago. He left this firm in 1931 to open his own practice that focused on labor law. In 1938, he represented the Congress of Industrial Organizations by assisting Chicago newspaper workers who were on strike for increased wages and better working conditions. During World War II Goldberg enlisted in the United States Army. He became the chief of the Labor Desk for the Office of Strategic Services. The OSS (precursor to the CIA) controlled espionage efforts for every branch of the United States Armed Forces. In this position, Goldberg was both a member of the United States Army and a civilian and oversaw part of the Office’s Secret Intelligence Branch. Goldberg contacted and worked with underground labor groups to rally opposition against the axis powers.
After the war, Goldberg co-founded a law firm, Goldberg, Devoe, Shadur & Mikav, in Chicago. He worked as a partner there for two years before becoming general counsel to the Congress of Industrial Organizations where he successfully navigated a merger with the American Federation of Labor. By 1960, he had also served on the boards of the United Steelworkers of America as well as the American Federation of Labor. During this time, because of his work with labor unions, Goldberg became a well-known figure in the Democratic Party. In 1961, he was appointed as Secretary of Labor by President John F. Kennedy. In 1962, Kennedy appointed him to the Supreme Court, and on September 28, 1962, Goldberg replaced Felix Frankfurter as an associate justice.
Goldberg was only a Supreme Court justice for a little under three years, yet was quite influential in a number of cases. As a liberal, Goldberg’s appointment to the Supreme Court caused the court’s decisions to shift towards the left.
One of the decisions for which Goldberg is remembered is Griswold v. Connecticut in which he argued that the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America gave citizens an unenumerated right to privacy.
Goldberg’s influence on the death penalty is still seen today. In 1963, Goldberg presented the argument that the death penalty violated the right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment as granted by the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. He published his opinion in the case of Rudolph v. Alabama, a case involving the death penalty as a punishment for rape. This publication by Goldberg essentially led to a massive reduction in the use of the death penalty in the United States in the late 1960s and through the 1970s. Echoes of this opinion were seen in 2008 when the death penalty as a consequence for the rape of a child was ruled unconstitutional.
While on the Supreme Court, Goldberg had several law clerks who would go on to become influential. Stephen Breyer for example, a current Supreme Court Justice, severed Goldberg as a law clerk. Alan Dershowitz, a criminal law professor, also worked under Goldberg.
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson asked Goldberg to resign as a justice of the Supreme Court to replace Adlai Stevenson II as the United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations. Goldberg later revealed that his decision to leave the Supreme Court was in part influenced by his desire to bring peace to Vietnam and because he expected to be reappointed to the Supreme Court after the conflict in Vietnam ended. Goldberg discovered that he could not bring peace to Vietnam; however, in 1968, he resigned from his ambassador position and become a senior partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, & Garrison, a New York based law firm.
It is speculated that Johnson removed Goldberg from the Supreme Court so that he could appoint Abe Fortas. Johnson wanted Fortas on the court to notify him of any potential unconstitutional rulings regarding the Great Society reforms. In exchange for his resignation, Johnson apparently promised to support Goldberg in negotiating the end of Vietnam and for a run at the presidency of the United States. These promises were never followed through on.
After Nixon took office, Goldberg knew that any hope for regaining Supreme Court Justice status was gone. Goldberg decided to enter politics, and in 1970 he ran against New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Although he polled well, Goldenberg lost to Rockefeller with a 700,000 vote margin.
Following this defeat, Goldberg moved to Washington D.C. where he practiced law. During this time he served as the President of the American Jewish Committee. In 1977, he served as the United States Ambassador to the Belgrade Conference and in 1978 Jimmy Carter awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Arthur Goldberg passed away due to coronary artery disease on January 19, 1990 at the age of 81 years old. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.