Robert H. Jackson

From Academic Kids

Justice Jackson
Justice Jackson

Robert Houghwout Jackson (February 13, 1892 - October 9, 1954) was United States Attorney General (1940 - 1941) and an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court (1941 - 1954). He was also the chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials.

Born in Spring Creek Township, Warren County, Pennsylvania and raised in Fressburg, New York, Jackson graduated from high school in Frewsburg and then spent one year as a post-graduate student attending Jamestown High School in Jamestown, New York. Jackson never attended college. At age 18, he went to work as an apprentice in a Jamestown law office, then enrolled for one year (1911-12) at Albany Law School in Albany, New York, and then returned to Jamestown again to apprentice for his third law-preparatory year. He passed the New York Bar Exam in 1913 and set up practice in Jamestown, New York.

Jackson became active in the federal government during the FDR administration, serving as general counsel of the Internal Revenue Service beginning in 1934. He went on to become an Assistant Attorney General from 1936 to 1938, during which time he was noted for successfully prosecuting several antitrust cases.

After a term as United States Solicitor General (1938-39) Jackson was appointed Attorney General by Roosevelt in 1940, replacing Frank Murphy. When Harlan Fiske Stone replaced the retiring Charles Evans Hughes as Chief Justice in 1941, Roosevelt appointed Jackson to the resulting vacant Associate's seat.

In 1943, Jackson authored the controversial majority opinion in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), which overturned a public school regulation making it mandatory to salute the flag and imposing penalties of expulsion and prosecution upon students that failed to comply.

Jackson was granted a leave of absence from the Court in 1945. He helped draft the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal, which created the legal basis for the Nuremberg trials. Afterward, he traveled to Germany to act as the United States' chief prosecutor at those trials. Jackson pursued his prosecutorial role with a great deal of vigor (for instance, referring in arguments to Hermann Göring as being "half militarist, half gangster"), but resigned his position as prosecutor after the first trial and returned to the U.S. in the midst of controversy.

Jackson had informally been promised the Chief Justiceship by Roosevelt; however, the seat came open while Jackson was in Germany, and FDR was no longer alive. President Truman was faced with two factions, one recommending Jackson for the seat, the other advocating Hugo Black. In an attempt to avoid controversy, Truman appointed Fred M. Vinson. Jackson blamed machinations by Black for his being passed over for the seat, and began a long feud with Black, which was heavily covered in the press and cast the New Deal Court in a negative light.

Jackson died in Washington, D.C. at the age of 62 and was interred in Frewsburg, New York.

Jackson was played by Alec Baldwin in the 2000 mini-series Nuremberg.


  • "We must make clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it. And we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into a trial of the causes of the war, for our position is that no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy."
  • "Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard." - from the Barnette opinion
  • "We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final" - on the Supreme Court Justices
  • "The Bill of Rights is not a suicide pact." (paraphrase) - comment in his dissent to Terminello v. City of Chicago, 337 U.S. 1 (1949).)

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Preceded by:
Frank Murphy
Attorney General of the United States
Succeeded by:
Francis Biddle
Preceded by:
Harlan Fiske Stone
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
July 11, 1941August 9, 1954
Succeeded by:
John Marshall Harlan II

Template:End boxde:Robert H. Jackson


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