Arthur J. Goldberg Biography

Supreme Court Justice, Diplomat (1908–1990)
In the 1960s, Arthur J. Goldberg held many important government posts, serving as secretary of labor, Supreme Court justice and ambassador to the United Nations.


Born in Chicago on August 8, 1908, Arthur J. Goldberg passed the bar at age 20 and worked as council for labor unions, eventually serving as secretary of labor (1961). In 1962, he was appointed to the Supreme Court, but left in 1965 to become ambassador to the United Nations. He resigned that post in 1968, in protest of the Vietnam War. Goldberg served as ambassador-at-large under President Jimmy Carter.

Early Life

Born on August 8, 1908, in Chicago, Illinois, Arthur Joseph Goldberg excelled in both the political and legal arenas, serving as secretary of labor during the Kennedy administration and sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1962 to '65. Goldberg came from humble beginnings. His parents were both Jewish immigrants from Russia. He was the youngest of their 11 children.

Arthur J. Goldberg took a number of jobs during his youth to help the family, including being a shoe delivery boy. A bright student, he graduated high school when he was only 15 years old. Goldberg attended several colleges before graduating from Northwestern University in 1930 with a law degree.

Successful Lawyer and Negotiator

As an attorney, Arthur J. Goldberg specialized in labor law. He represented the workers in the 1938 Newspaper Guild strike. During World War II, Goldberg served in the Office of Strategic Affairs. He returned to his law practice after the war ended.

Goldberg became a legal advisor for the United Steelworkers of America and the Congress of Industrial Organizations. In 1955, he helped orchestrate the merger of two major labor organizations—the CIO and the American Federation of Labor. Goldberg also assisted in gathering union support for 1960 presidential candidate John F. Kennedy.

After Kennedy took office in 1961, he appointed Goldberg as his secretary of labor. Goldberg proved instrumental in resolving a conflict between U.S. Steel and its workforce. The following year, Kennedy nominated Goldberg for the U.S. Supreme Court. He replaced the retiring Felix Frankfurter.

Supreme Court Justice

On the Supreme Court for only a few years, Goldberg managed to make a significant impact in that short time span. Arriving at a time the court was known for its judicial activism, he helped make up its liberal majority. One of his most famous decisions was in the case of Escobedo v. Illinois. In this decision, the court revised the way the police could handle their suspects. A prisoner was granted the right to an attorney during any interrogation by the authorities. Before this ruling, the accused was only entitled to a lawyer during trial.

In 1965, Goldberg resigned from the court under pressure from President Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson wanted Goldberg to use his great powers of persuasion as the ambassador to United Nations. Some reports also state that Johnson asked Goldberg to leave the court to make room for his friend Abe Fortas. In any case, Goldberg had very difficult time stepping down. "I shall not, Mr. President, conceal the pain with which I leave the court after three years of service," he stated, according to the Los Angeles Times. "It has been the richest and most satisfying period of my career."

U.N. Ambassador and Beyond

Goldberg became the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at a difficult time in American history. The conflict in Vietnam was escalating, and Goldberg found himself at odds with Johnson over the war. Goldberg hoped to sway Johnson to end this military operation, but Johnson remained determined to fight on. Goldberg's talents as a negotiator were put to better use in 1967 when he helped end the Arab-Israel War.

In 1968, Goldberg resigned his ambassadorship and returned to private practice. He made his one and only bid for public office two years. Goldberg failed in his 1970 run for governor of New York, losing to Nelson A. Rockefeller. After this disappointment, he moved back to Washington, D.C. He established his own law firm there. In addition to practicing law, Goldberg taught at such colleges as American University in his later years. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Jimmy Carter in 1978.

Goldberg died on January 19, 1990, at his home in Washington, D.C. He was survived by his two children, Robert and Barbara. His wife, Dorothy, had died two years earlier. The couple had been married for 57 years.

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