Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Arthur J. Goldberg (1961–1962): Secretary of Labor

Arthur Joseph Goldberg was born on August 8, 1908, into a large family of Russian-Jewish immigrants on Chicago's West Side. From 1924 through 1926, Goldberg worked his way through Crane Junior College of City College of Chicago as a delivery boy for a Chicago shoe factory. He then labored with a construction gang while working on his B.S.L. at Northwestern University.

Goldberg took a job as an associate lawyer with Kamfner, Horowitz, Halligan, and Daniels, from 1929 through 1931 while earning his J.D. from Northwestern University. He continued to practice law from 1931 to 1942, at which time he accepted a commission to work as a special assistant with the Office of Strategic Service; he served with O.S.S. from 1942 to 1945.

After the war, Goldberg resumed his practice of law and began giving a series of lectures. He became general counsel for the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO) and the United Steelworkers of America (USW) in 1948. Goldberg was one of the earliest labor backers of presidential hopeful John F. Kennedy and, in December 1960, was tapped by the President-elect as secretary of labor. While serving in that capacity, Goldberg fought against unemployment, helping to create the Redevelopment Act of 1961, increasing the minimum wage, reorganizing the Office of Manpower Administration, pushing for a White House Conference on National Economic Issues, becoming personally involved in several strike negotiations, creating the President's Advisory Committee on Labor-Management Policies, and working to eliminate racial discrimination in employment.

Goldberg served as secretary of labor until 1962, when Kennedy nominated him to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by Justice Felix Frankfurter. While Goldberg served on the high court for only thirty-four months, he relied on due process clauses and the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution in arguing for the unconstitutionality of the death penalty.

Goldberg also wrote for the majority in the ruling that made it unconstitutional to deny passports or visas to members of the Communist Party. In addition, he wrote the majority opinion in the landmark Escobedo v. Illinois case, ruling that confessions are not admissible in court if a suspect is questioned without being allowed to consult with a lawyer or without a warning that his answer may be used against him.

In 1965, following his brief tenure on the Supreme Court, Goldberg accepted President Lyndon B. Johnson's appointment as ambassador to the United Nations. He resigned, however, in 1968, to help Senator Hubert Humphrey run for President. Goldberg also spoke out against American involvement in Vietnam and ran unsuccessfully against Nelson Rockefeller in the 1970 New York gubernatorial election. Arthur Goldberg died on January 19, 1990.