Jackson, Robert Houghwout

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Jackson, Robert Houghwout

Robert Houghwout Jackson served as general counsel for the Federal Bureau of Internal Revenue, attorney general of the United States, and justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. During his service on the Court from 1941 to 1954 Jackson delivered unconventional opinions that did not always coincide with those of the president who had appointed him, franklin d. roosevelt. Jackson was nonetheless chosen to be chief counsel at the Nuremberg Trials following World War II.

Jackson's straightforward style as a lawyer and a justice stemmed from his rural upbringing. The first Jacksons immigrated to the United States from England in 1819. They settled in Spring Creek, Pennsylvania, where Jackson was born on February 13, 1892. His father, William Eldred Jackson, provided for the family through farming and lumbering.

In September 1911 Jackson entered Albany Law School, passing the bar in 1913. He then began a lengthy career with the establishment of a law practice at Jamestown, New York, and formed a friendship with fellow New Yorker Roosevelt.

In 1934 Jackson was selected by the recently elected president Roosevelt to serve as general counsel for the Federal Bureau of Internal Revenue. In 1936 he became assistant attorney general of the United States, a position he held until 1938. Between 1938 and 1939, he performed the duties of U.S. Solicitor General. He acted as the U.S. attorney general from 1940 until his appointment in July 1941 as justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jackson earned the trust and admiration of his associates through his wit and wisdom. Many of his philosophies on essential constitutional issues came to be known as Jacksonisms. Throughout his career he withheld blind praise of the U.S. system of government. He stated, "A free man must be a reasoning man, and he must dare to doubt what a legislative or electoral majority may most passionately assert" (American Communications Ass'n v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382 70 S. Ct. 674, 94 L. Ed. 925 [1950]).

Jackson voted against government actions that imposed upon free speech and religion, and voiced mistrust of labor unions. Many of his opinions were dissents from a majority that tended to uphold union interests and to support New Deal legislation.

Following the end of the second world war, Jackson was chosen as chief counsel for the United States at the Nuremberg trials, where Nazi leaders were tried for War Crimes. Included among the defendants was Hermann Goering, second in command of the Nazi regime, and Adolf Hitler's designated successor.

In his opening remarks before Goering's trial began, Jackson noted the place of the proceddings in history when he said:

We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well. We must summon such detachment and intellectual integrity to our task that this trial will commend itself to posterity as fulfilling humanity's aspirations to do justice.

On September 30 and October 1, 1946, the Nuremberg tribunal found nineteen of the twenty-two defendants guilty on one or more counts. Twelve defendants, including Goering, were sentenced to death by hanging.

For his success at Nuremberg, Jackson received a number of honors in the United States, including honorary doctoral degrees from Dartmouth College and Syracuse University. Recognition also came from other nations, including honorary degrees in law from the University of Brussels and the University of Warsaw.

"It is not the function of our Government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the Government from falling into error."
—Robert jackson

After the trials, Jackson continued his service on the Court. He died on October 9, 1954.

Further readings

Barrett, John Q. 2002. "A Jackson Portrait for Jamestown, 'A Magnet in the Room.'" Buffalo Law Review 50 (fall): 809–17.

Barry, Graeme A. 2000. "'The Gifted Judge': An Analysis of the Judicial Career of Robert H. Jackson." Alberta Law Review 38 (November): 880–902.

Demon, Charles S., et al. 1969. Mr. Justice Jackson: Four Lectures in His Honor. New York: William Nelson Crumble Foundation, Columbia Univ. Press.

Gerhart, Eugene C. 2003. Robert H. Jackson: Country Lawyer, Supreme Court Justice, America's Advocate. Buffalo, N.Y.: W. S. Hein; Jamestown, N.Y.: R H. Jackson Center.

——. 1961. Lawyer's Judge. Albany: Q Corp.

——. 1958. America's Advocate: Robert H. Jackson. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

Jackson, Robert H. 1951. Wartime Security and Liberty under Law. Buffalo: Univ. of Buffalo School of Law.

——. 1947. The Naürnberg Case. New York: Knopf.

Prosaic, Joseph E. 1994. Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial. New York: Penguin Books.

Rosenbaum, Alan S. 1993. Prosecuting Nazi War Criminals. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.

Schubert, Glendon. 1969. Dispassionate Justice: A Synthesis of the Judicial Opinions of Robert H. Jackson. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

Taylor, Telford. 1992. The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials. New York: Knopf.

U.S. Supreme Court. 1955. Proceedings of the Bar and Officers of the Supreme Court of the United States, April 4, 1955, and Proceedings before the Supreme Court of the United States, April 4, 1955, in Memory of Robert Houghwout Jackson. Washington, D.C.: United States Supreme Court Bar.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.