1962 September 28

Arthur Goldberg Joins Supreme Court


Arthur Goldberg, Secretary of Labor at the time, was appointed to the Supreme Court by President John Kennedy. Goldberg proved to be a very strong supporter of civil liberties. Because he replaced Felix Frankfurter, who had become increasingly opposed to the activism of the Warren Court, Goldberg’s appointment moved the Court even further in the direction of support for civil liberties.

Goldberg is noted for a 1963 dissent from the denial of cert in Rudolph v. Alabama, which included a statement that the death penalty violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Civil rights and civil liberties lawyers took the statement as a signal that they should bring Eighth Amendment challenges to these cases. He also wrote a concurring opinion in Griswold v. Connecticut, decided on June 7, 1965, arguing that the Ninth Amendment guaranteed a right to privacy. He resigned in 1965 and was appointed Ambassador to the United Nations by President Lyndon Johnson.

Some controversy surrounds the circumstances of Goldberg’s decision to resign, involving Johnson’s motives. Many observers believe that Johnson wanted his old friend Abe Fortas on the Court in order to protect against constitutional challenges to Great Society social programs. Goldberg was replaced by Fortas, an appointment that maintained the informal tradition of a “Jewish seat” on the Court (Brandeis, Cardozo, Frankfurter, Goldberg, Fortas); that line of succession was broken by Harry Blackmun’s appointment to replace Fortas). Because Fortas was as strong a civil libertarian as Goldberg, however, the change did not strengthen the orientation of the Court.

Read: David Stebenne, Arthur J. Goldberg: New Deal Liberal (1996)

Watch a symposium on the legacy of Justice Goldberghttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXryXRuVgls

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