July 11, 1941 – Robert Jackson Sworn in as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

Robert Jackson, born in 1892, served as United States Solicitor General (1938-1940), United States Attorney General (1940–1941) and an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court (1941–1954). He is the only person in United States history to have held all three of those offices. He was also the chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials. In addition, he is the last Supreme Court justice appointed who did not graduate from any law school.

Robert H. Jackson

Robert H. Jackson

Jackson began his career in the law at age 18, when he went to work as an apprentice in a Jamestown, New York two-attorney law office with his uncle who was a lawyer. Jackson did attend Albany Law School, in Albany, New York during 1911–12. Although Jackson completed the second year of the school’s two-year program, he was denied a law degree because he was under age twenty-one.

During the summer of 1912, Jackson returned to Jamestown, apprenticing again for the next year. He passed the New York bar examination in 1913 and joined a law practice in Jamestown, New York, later moving with his wife to Buffalo.

Jackson took a number of leadership roles in the bar, and in 1933 was elected chairman of the American Bar Association’s Conference of Bar Association Delegates (a predecessor to today’s ABA House of Delegates).

In 1934, he was appointed by Franklin Roosevelt to be general counsel for the Bureau of Internal Revenue in the Treasury Department and served as the government’s principal tax attorney. In 1936, Jackson became Assistant Attorney General of the Tax Division in the Department of Justice and, less than two months later, he assumed the position of Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division. In this position, he argued 10 cases before the Supreme Court.

Robert H. Jackson

Robert H. Jackson

In March, 1938, Jackson was confirmed by the Senate as the 24th Solicitor General of the United States. During his tenure as Solicitor General, Jackson argued 27 cases before the Court and lost 4.

Justice Louis Brandeis reportedly observed that Jackson was so good at the position he should serve as Solicitor General for life. (James M. Marsh, “Robert H. Jackson,” in The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, 1789-1993, ed. Clare Cushman (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1993), at 408.)

In January 1940, Robert Jackson was appointed to be the Attorney General. He remained in that position until July 1941, when he was elevated to the Supreme Court on this day in history. In all, Justice Jackson served as a government attorney in five different capacities within the Department of Justice and argued before the Supreme Court on 37 separate occasions prior to joining the Court. (“From Solicitor General to Supreme Court Nominee: Responsibilities, History, and the Nomination of Elena Kagan” by Susan Navarro Smelcer & Kenneth R. Thomas, CRS, June 23, 2010)

During Jackson’s tenure on the Court, President Harry Truman asked him to serve as the chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremburg Trials.

1946 photo of Chief U.S. prosecutor Robert H. Jackson seen during summation statements at the International War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg, Germany.   (AP Photo)

1946 photo of Chief U.S. prosecutor Robert H. Jackson seen during summation statements at the International War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg, Germany. (AP Photo)

Justice Jackson was known for a number of important opinions, including his concurring opinion in 1952’s Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (343 U.S. 579, 1952) (forbidding President Harry Truman’s seizure of steel mills during the Korean War to avert a strike), in which Jackson formulated a three-tier test for evaluating claims of presidential power. This remains one of the most widely cited opinions in Supreme Court history.

Jackson is also often quoted for his statement about the Supreme Court in Brown v. Allen (344 U.S. 443, 1953) that “We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final.”

After serving over 13 years on the Court, Justice Jackson died suddenly of a heart attack on October 9, 1954.

One Response

  1. Interesting as I did not know about him at all except for his role at Nuremberg.

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