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Arthur J. Goldberg, former Supreme Court justice, dead at 81

WASHINGTON -- Arthur Joseph Goldberg, whose surprising resignation from the Supreme Court 25 years ago can be seen as the beginning of the court's shift to the right, was found dead in his Washington apartment Friday. He was 81. Julia M. Getter, who worked for Goldberg, said she discovered the body of the former Kenedy administration labor secretary and onetime U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Friday afternoon.

'I came to the apartment and found the papers out front,' she told United Press International in a telephone interview. 'I thought that was unusual. He is an early riser.

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'I went in and felt something was wrong. I looked in the living room and kitchen and then found him on the couch, in his pajamas, in the study.'

Ralph DeStefano, funeral director of Jos. Gawler's & Sons, said he had no information on the cause of death and no details on funeral arrangements.

Members of the Goldberg family were on their way to Washington, DeStefano said, adding that the former high court member would be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Goldberg, an activist who built a legal and political career around labor law, had been reported ill recently and canceled plans to come to a celebration at the Supreme Court on Tuesday to mark the bicentennial of the high court's first session in 1790.

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Justice William Brennan, who served on the bench with Goldberg and was a close friend, called Goldberg's death 'a grievous loss' to the nation.

'He was very human, a man of dignity and courtly bearing, punctilious, courteous, cultivated, a superb host,' Brennan said, adding, 'It is amistake to suppose that such traits describe a stuffy man. ... He was a delightful, stimulating companion.'

In a statement, retired Chief Justice Warren Burger said he had been 'warm friends' with Goldberg for nearly 40 years and praised his long career.

'As general counsel of the AFL-CIO, he was an outstanding lawyer and spokesman for organized labor,' Burger said. 'As a justice of the Supreme Court, he was a balanced and thoughtful jurist.'

Goldberg was named to the court by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, moving from his post as head of the Labor Department to replace Justice Felix Frankfurter in what had become known as the 'Jewish seat' on the high tribunal.

While Goldberg sat on the high court for just three years, he regarded it as the high point of a long and active career and for decades resented persistent accounts that he resigned because the court bored him.

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Despite Goldberg's short tenure, his appointment brought historic change to the court, then headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren. Goldberg was the crucial fifth vote to solidify a liberal majority on the court that led to a virtual revolution in constitutional law.

He stepped down in 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson asked him to become ambassador to the United Nations -- an extraordinary move in which he gave up a lifetime appointment to the nation's most prestigious legal position in exchange for a transient foreign policy assignment.

Just as his presence solidifed the liberal majority, Goldberg's departure was one link in a chain of events that led to the eventual appointment of Burger as chief justice and the shift of the court to the right -- a quarter-centruy transition that has continued to the present day.

Goldberg was born Aug. 8, 1908, in Chicago, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants and the youngest of their 11 children. He grew up on Chicago's West Side, worked his way through college and earned a law degree from Northwestern University.

He set up a private law practice in Chicago and began working with labor unions.

During World War II, Goldberg worked with the Office of Strategic Services,forerunner of the CIA, and set up a network of labor activists in occupied countries that spied on the Nazis and passed information to the allies.

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Returning from the war, he worked as counsel for several labor unions. Two leading labor leaders -- John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers and Philip Murray, president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations -- took a liking to Goldberg. The young lawyer played a major role in bringing the American Federation of Labor and the CIO -- at one time enemies in the labor movement -- together in a merged organization.

Goldberg also was instrumental in convincing labor leaders to endorse John F. Kennedy's run for the presidency and Kennedy named him secretary of labor in 1960. Goldberg became the most active labor secretary in nation's history and served as a cushion between management and the unions, criss-crossing the country settling labor disputes.

'I have a philosophy ... about government -- that people expect government to be activist,' Goldberg said in a 1986 interview. 'So I was activist. I settled strikes.'NEWLN: more

When elevated to the court in 1962 to replace Felix Frankfurter, Goldberg joined one of the most exciting rosters the bench of nine ever had. Warren, Hugo Black, William O. Douglas and William Brennan anchored a liberal wing that became a clear majority with Goldberg's addition.

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In his relatively short time on the court, Goldberg was in the thick of social and legal issues. With his activist philosophy and skills as a negotiator, he did not sit quietly.

He understood people, legal doctrine, precedent, change and how the law worked, said Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor who clerked for Goldberg in 1963.

'My first assignment in the summer of 1963 was to help him to figure out a way to strike down the death penalty as unconstitutional. It was one of the most remarkable experiences one could have,' Dershowitz said.

Goldberg remained on the bench until Johnson called on him to serve as U.N. ambassador in 1965.

When Johnson asked Goldberg to move to the United Nations, he assured him he would have a strong say on foreign policy, especially on the Vietnam War, but Goldberg found that was not the case.

Goldberg resigned as ambassador in 1968 to campaign for Hubert Humphrey for president. Following Richard Nixon's victory over Humphrey, Goldberg returned to work in behalf of civil liberties. He was particularly interested in investigating government clashes with the Black Panther Party.

In 1970, Goldberg entered politics by seeking the Democratic nomination for governor of New York. He defeated industrialist Howard J. Samuels in the primary, but lost to incumbent Nelson Rockefeller in the general election.

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In an interview in 1986, Goldberg, then 78, said he missed the Supreme Court.

'It's a great thing sitting up there. ... You have a robe, and you're exercising your intellectual abilities to a great extent and -- for better or worse -- whether you influence a person is not so great as the fact you articulate certain things,' he said.

'On the whole it was a very pleasant atmosphere.'

During his tenure, Goldberg wrote the opinion in Escobedo vs. Illinois in 1964 that extended the right to a lawyer during the police-interrogation stage -- a precursor of the famed 1966 Miranda vs. Arizona decision, ordering that defendants also be told their rights by police at the time of arrest.

Goldberg also voted to strike down segregation in public places and to protect the rights of demonstrators. He was with the majority in court rulings mandating the one-man, one-vote rule and in giving the press broad protection from libel suits brought by public officials.

He also joined in a 1965 ruling invalidating a state anti-contraceptive law on the grounds it interfered in the right to privacy, a right later used to justify legalizing abortion in Roe vs. Wade.

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Goldberg fought with Johnson from the start to get out of Vietnam.

'Johnson was committed to the view that America never lost a war,' Goldberg said in the 1986 interview. 'I thought that was nonsense. That's where we got the big arguments, almost from the start. It was continuous throughout three years.'

Goldberg's final break with the president came over Johnson's account of Goldberg's resignation from the court and a chance for Goldberg to return to the bench.

In his memoirs in 1971, Johnson said Goldberg wanted off the court because he was bored. Goldberg vehemently denied that account. His story carried some weight, as reports circulated in late 1968 that Johnson considered returning him to the court, stories that Goldberg confirmed.

When the nomination of Justice Abe Fortas to become chief justice to replace the retiring Warren was defeated, Goldberg said Johnson asked him if he would take a recess appointment, which would have enabled Goldberg to immediately begin serving as chief justice until the Senate could convene to consider the nomination.

'I said yes, I'll take a recess appointment. ... And he called me and said he had found he made a statement against recess appointments. ... After the (1968) election he went to Nixon and asked Nixon if he would appoint me. That I regarded as nonsensical. Of all the appointments, Nixon would not appoint me.'

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After careers as a lawyer, intelligence agent, Cabinet officer, Supreme Court justice and U.N. ambassador, Goldberg returned to law in a New York firm.

He returned to Washington in 1971 to open his own one-man law practice and in later years, he wrote, lectured and taught.

Goldberg and his wife, the former Dorothy Kurgans, were married in 1931. She died earlier.

The Goldberg's have two children, Barbara Goldberg Cramer, a social worker in Chicago, and Robert M. Goldberg, a lawyer in Alaska, and six grandchildren.

Goldberg had been reported ill recently and canceled plans to come to a bicentennial celebration at the Supreme Court Tuesday to mark the first session of the court in 1790.

While Goldberg sat on the high court for just three years, he regarded it as the high point of a long and active career and for decades resented persistant accounts that he resigned from the court because it bored him.

Despite Goldberg's short tenure on the bench, his appointment brought historic change to the court then headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren. Goldberg was the crucial fifth vote to solidify a liberal majority on the court that led to a virtual revolution in constitutional law.

Advertisement

He stepped down when President Lyndon B. Johnson asked him to become ambassador to the United Nations.NEWLN: more

Goldberg was born Aug. 8, 1908, in Chicago, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants and the youngest of their 11 children. He grew up on Chicago's West Side, worked his way through college and earned a law degree from Northwestern University.

He set up a private law practice in Chicago and began working with labor unions.

During World War II, Goldberg worked with the OSS, the forerunner of the CIA, and set up a network of labor activists in occupied countries that spied on the Nazis and passed information on troop movements and factory locations to the allies.

Returning from the war, he worked as counsel for several labor unions. Two leading labor leaders -- John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers and Philip Murray, president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations -- took a liking to Goldberg. The young lawyer played a major role in bringing the American Federation of Labor and the CIO -- at one time enemies in the labor movement -- together in a merged organization.

Goldberg was also instrumental in convincing labor leaders to endorse John F. Kennedy's run for the presidency and Kennedy named him secretary of labor in 1960. Goldberg then became the most active labor secretary in nation's history and served as a cushion between management and the unions, criss-crossing the country settling labor disputes.

Advertisement

'I have a philosophy ... about government -- that people expect government to be activist,' Goldberg said in a 1986 interview. 'So I was activist. I settled strikes.'

When elevated to the court in 1962 to replace Felix Frankfurter, Goldberg joined one of the most exciting rosters the bench of nine ever had. Warren, Hugo Black, William O. Douglas and William Brennan anchored a liberal wing that became a clear majority with Goldberg's addition. Segregated schools and school prayer were found unconstitutional and birth control was found legal.

In his relatively short time on the court, Goldberg was in the thick of social and legal issues. With his activist philosophy and skills as a negotiator, he did not sit quietly.

He understood people, legal doctrine, precedent, change and how the law worked, said Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor who clerked for Goldberg in 1963.

'My first assignment in the summer of 1963 was to help him to figure out a way to strike down the death penalty as unconstitutional. It was one of the most remarkable experiences one could have.'

Goldberg remained on the bench until Johnson called on him to serve as U.N. ambassador in 1965.

Advertisement

When Johnson asked Goldberg to move into the United Nations, he assured him he would have a strong say on foreign policy, especially on the conduct of the Vietnam War. But Goldberg got very little support from the Johnson administration on Vietnam decision-making and he was never invited sit in on critical the war.

Goldberg resigned as ambassador in 1968 to campaign for Hubert Humphrey for president. Following Richard M. Nixon's victory over Humphrey, Goldberg returned to work in behalf of civil liberties. He was particularly interested in investigating government clashes with the Black Panther Party.

During the early 1970s Goldberg became a strong advocate of U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam and helped organize a legal lobby against the conflict.

In 1970, Goldberg entered politics by seeking the Democratic nomination for governor of New York. He won the party's vote by defeating industrialist Howard J. Samuels in the primary only to lose to incumbent Nelson Rockefeller in the general election. Three years later it was learned that Rockefeller had given financial assistance to the author of an unfavorable biography of Goldberg.

Goldberg returned to private practice but reserved the right to make his views known on controversial issues.

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In an interview in 1986, Goldberg, then 78, said he missed the Supreme Court.

'It's a great thing sitting up there. ... You have a robe, and you're exercising your intellectual abilities to a great extent and -- for better or worse -- whether you influence a person is not so great as the fact you articulate certain things,' he said.

'On the whole it was a very pleasant atmosphere.'NEWLN: more

Goldberg wrote the opinion in Escobedo vs. Illinois in 1964 that extended the right to an attorney during the police-interrogation stage. At the time, poor defendants had only the right to a court-provided lawyer when they came to trial. The Escobedo decision was a precursor of the famed 1966 Miranda vs. Arizona decision, ordering that defendants also be told their rights by police at the time of arrest.

Goldberg voted with the majority to strike down segregation in public places and to protect the rights of demonstrators. He was with court rulings mandating the one-man, one-vote rule and in giving the press broad protection from libel suits brought by public officials.

He also joined in a 1965 ruling invalidating a state anti-contraceptive law on the grounds it interfered in the right to privacy, a right later used to justify legalizing abortion in Roe vs. Wade. In a concurring opinion Goldberg wanted to take the contraceptive decision even further, writing that the Constitution protected fundamental liberties not listed in the Bill of Rights.

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Dershowitz and other legal scholars said one of Goldberg's greatest contributions was sparking a debate over the constitutionality of the death penalty. He argued, unsuccessfully, that the death penalty itself violated the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Dershowitz called Goldberg's resignation from the court the 'most unselfish act of statesmanship I ever witnessed.

'Here was a man who loved the Supreme Court and was at the zenith of his powers and (left because) Johnson said the country needed him.'

Goldberg's skills as a negotiator, honed during years spent settling labor disputes, were particularly suited to the United Nations' Tower of Babel atmosphere.

'His background in negotiations was a great deal of what it was all about,' said David Rosenbloom, a Washington attorney who worked with Goldberg in 1966-67. 'He had an almost uncanny feeling for what people really wanted and what their motivation was. He was able to see the common denominator in situations, forge a consensus and make progress.'

The times he lived in put his skills to the test. During his tenure, the Six Day War erupted in the Middle East as did war over Cyprus. The nuclear non-proliferation treaty was being worked out at the United Nations.

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Goldberg fought with Johnson from the start to get out of Vietnam.

'Johnson was committed to the view that America never lost a war,' Goldberg said in the 1986 interview. 'I thought that was nonsense. That's where we got the big arguments, almost from the start. It was continuous throughout three years.'

Goldberg said he told Johnson after the Tet Offensive that he had 'lost the consent of the governed and now your only choice is to really not run (for re-election) and get out.

'He didn't talk to me for three days. And when he announced a few days later he wasn't going to run, I resigned (in April 1968). I accomplished my objective, too late.'

Goldberg's final break with the president came over Johnson's account of Goldberg's resignation from the court and a chance for Goldberg to return to the bench.

In his memoirs in 1971, Johnson said Goldberg wanted off the court because he was bored. Goldberg vehemently denied that account. His story carried some weight, as reports circulated in late 1968 that Johnson considered returning him to the court, stories that Goldberg confirmed.

When the nomination of Justice Abe Fortas to become chief justice to replace the retiring Warren was defeated, Goldberg said Johnson asked him if he would take a recess appointment, an appointment made when Congress has adjourned that would have enabled Goldberg to immediately begin serving as chief justice until the Senate could convene to consider the nomination.

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'I said yes, I'll take a recess appointment. ... And he called me and said he had found he made a statement against recess appointments, and I said you asked me and I told you my answer and then he did something and I called him and I was furious. After the election he went to Nixon and asked Nixon if he would appoint me. That I regarded as nonsensical. Of all the appointments, Nixon would not appoint me.'

Dershowitz said the Senate would not have opposed Goldberg, but that Johnson refused to nominate him because of Goldberg's opposition to him while at the United Nations.

After careers as a lawyer, spy, Cabinet officer, Supreme Court justice and U.N. ambassador, Goldberg returned to law in a New York firm.

He returned to Washington in 1971 to open his own one-man law practice. In 1977 he was named an ambassador at large to a conference in Europe. In later years, he wrote, lectured and taught.

Goldberg and his wife, the former Dorothy Kurgans, were married in 1931. She is also deceased.

The Goldberg's have two children, Barbara Goldberg Cramer, a social worker in Chicago, and Robert M. Goldberg, a lawyer in Alaska, and six grandchildren.

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