Arthur Goldberg served as a Secretary of Labor for President John F. Kennedy and as an Ambassador for President Lyndon B. Johnson and President Jimmy Carter. He was also an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court.
Arthur Goldberg was born in Chicago in 1908. When his father died in 1916, Goldberg continued his studies but worked to help support the family. He finished High School when he was 16 years old and entered DePaul University. Goldberg attended Northwestern University School of Law and edited the Illinois Law Review. He graduated with his law degree in 1929.
With American intervention in World War II looming, Goldberg joined the Army. He served at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Labor Desk and was later assigned to the Secret Intelligence Branch. In this role, he contacted labor groups in Nazi-occupied Europe to gather intelligence and encourage dissidence.
Goldberg returned to Chicago after the war and opened the law firm Goldberg and Devoe. Committed to social justice cases, he often defended strikers and unions. Goldberg was recognized for his efforts for the labor movement and was appointed general counsel to the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and the United Steelworkers of America in 1948. In this role, he served as the chief legal adviser over the merger between CIO and the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1955.
Goldberg was a prominent figure in the Democratic Party because of his leadership in the labor movement. President John F. Kennedy appointed him as Secretary of Labor in 1961. Two years later, when Justice Felix Frankfurter resigned from the Supreme Court, Kennedy nominated Goldberg to fill the vacancy. While on the bench, he oversaw significant civil rights cases. One case, Escobedo v. Illinois, decided that criminal suspects have a right to legal counsel during police interrogations. Among his law clerks was current Associate Justice Stephen Breyer.
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated Goldberg to succeed the late Adlai Stevenson as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (UN). Goldberg agreed, and resigned his Supreme Court seat. During his tenure in the UN, Israel fought the Six-Day War in 1967. Notably, Goldberg helped draft Resolution 242 to end the conflict, which was accepted by the Israeli government. His work helped garner unanimous support for the English version of the resolution.
In 1968, he resigned from his ambassadorship to return to a private law career at the firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in Washington, DC. Goldberg also served as President of the American Jewish Committee. About his heritage, he said, “I’m proud of my Jewish heritage; I don’t like any American who’s not proud of his heritage.” He ran for Governor of New York in 1970, but lost to Nelson Rockefeller. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Goldberg as Ambassador to the Belgrade Conference on Human Rights. The next year, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Carter.
Goldberg married Dorothy Kurgans, and they had two children. He died on January 19, 1990 and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
More about Goldberg can be read in the book Jews in American Politics, which was edited by L. Sandy Maisel and Ira N. Forman.
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