Tag Archives: New York Times

Jackson List: Birthday Reading (1938)

Today marks the 126th anniversary of Robert Houghwout Jackson’s 1892 birth, in his family’s farmhouse in Spring Creek Township, Warren County, Pennsylvania.

It seems that on many a February 13, Robert Jackson did nothing special, and nothing special happened to him.

Jackson did have an unusual experience on this date in 1938—eighty years ago today.  He then was Assistant Attorney General of the United States, heading the Antitrust Division.  He also had been nominated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to become the Solicitor General of the United States, succeeding Stanley Reed who had been appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Jackson’s Senate confirmation hearing had begun in late January, and on February 13th he was in the midst of testifying, ultimately over three days, in a hearing that was thorough, very substantive, and sometimes contentious.  (To boil it down, some Senators were concerned that Jackson was a radical threat to American constitutional law and capitalist freedom and, related, that he was rising to become a leading force in the Democratic Party and, perhaps, presidential material in 1940, when it was expected that F.D.R. would not seek a third term.)  Jackson also had, in the previous week, been part of arguing before the Supreme Court in defense of the constitutionality of the Public Utility Holding Company Act, a major New Deal law.

On Sunday, February 13, 1938, his 46th birthday, Robert Jackson was the subject of a New York Times Sunday Magazine profile article, “Jackson Sets Forth His Political Philosophy.”  The article is online here, readable in full text by Times subscribers (but, alas, behind a paywall for non-subscribers).

The writer, Felix J. Belair, Jr., was The Times’s chief White House correspondent.  Belair seems to have interviewed Jackson for the article—it contains extensive quotations from him, plus two photographs.

I regard the article as strong personal profile journalism.  It is distinctly pro-Jackson, published at a moment when he was a well-publicized, controversial nominee in the middle of a Senate confirmation battle.  It also is an article that contains some of what we call political spin, and some dubious stories.  The article reports:

  • Jackson has no law degree;
  • He has many friends but few intimates;
  • He once made Justice James C. McReynolds, not generally a jovial figure on the Supreme Court bench, laugh during an oral argument;
  • Jackson defends FDR as working to make the private enterprise system work;
  • Jackson believes that people will not accept waves of unemployment; they must be fed or they will turn to a new political system;
  • His 1934-35 work at the Treasury Department, including his study of wealth concentration, was a basis for the 1935 tax reform law;
  • He is not opposed to productive bigness in companies, just to holding companies that are put together for the purpose of speculating in corporate securities;
  • He believes the U.S. needs a high wage industrial economy;
  • He thinks about the future—one quotation looks ahead to “1960” (when Jackson would have turned 68, but which he did not live to see—he died in 1954);
  • He testified in defense of FDR’s 1937 “Court-packing” proposal;
  • His record in major constitutional arguments before the Supreme Court is 4-4;
  • He is a father, a horseman, and a businessman;
  • He attended Albany Law School but did not receive a degree.  (This is true, but Belair did not report that this was only because the school regarded Jackson, age 20 when he completed all requirements, as too young to receive a degree.  The article also incorrectly states that Jackson did two years of law school course work in one year—a myth that follows him still.  And the article does not mention that in addition to attending Albany Law School, Jackson trained for the bar by apprenticing for two years in a law office.);
  • Jackson’s law practice started in (conservative) Jamestown, New York, where he defended radicals charged with crimes growing out of a street railway strike and, surprisingly, won;
  • He subsequently became counsel to businesses (including in Buffalo, New York, and elsewhere, which Belair did not mention);
  • Jackson loves horses:  they were central to his farm boyhood in Spring Creek; he owns a horse farm in Jamestown; he lives with his wife Irene, daughter Mary, and horses on a large property in Maryland;
  • He works late and rides early, often with Mary, sometimes trying out on her, or on his horse (more amenable?), speeches that he is preparing;
  • He and Irene also have a son, William (then a Yale College freshman).  (Belair reported that Jackson hoped Bill would become a lawyer, but in fact, at least by the time Bill was finishing college, Jackson was open to Bill pursuing whatever career path he wished—and he did then go to law school and became a very accomplished lawyer.);
  • Jackson likes to talk about his ancestors, including his great-grandfather Elijah Jackson, the first white settler of Spring Creek;
  • His middle name, Houghwout, is a family name, from ancestors who were early Dutch settlers New Amsterdam;
  • Jackson’s family politics:  Andrew Jackson Democrats;
  • He never sought political office.  (That is largely true, unless one counts, unreported here, his election in young adulthood to country political organization office.);
  • He was appointed corporation counsel in Jamestown by a Republican mayor (which is true—Mayor Sam Carlson was a smart, liberal Republican);
  • Jackson came to Washington at the personal request of FDR.  (This might be an exaggeration of Roosevelt’s personal role in Jackson’s recruitment to the New Deal.);
  • Jackson offers blunt criticism of the bar (the legal profession), including for its conservatism and opposition to government reform;
  • He has critics and enemies but also many friends and admirers;
  • He has been mentioned in the past for numerous offices, including the Supreme Court, the U.S. Senate, and the Governorship of New York;
  • He has no idea what future will bring—maybe just a return to practicing law in Jamestown.

I assume that Jackson, on that Sunday morning, got a copy of The Times and read Belair’s profile piece.  I bet that Jackson mostly liked it.  I bet more that he didn’t spend a lot of time on it, and that if the weather was good enough he spent more time that day on horseback.

For additional Jackson Birthday reading, here are some previous Jackson Birthday-related posts:

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This post was emailed to the Jackson List, a private but entirely non-selective email list that reaches many thousands of subscribers around the world. I write to it periodically about Justice Robert H. Jackson, the Supreme Court, Nuremberg and related topics. The Jackson List archive site is http://thejacksonlist.com/.  To subscribe, email me at barrettj@stjohns.edu. Thank you for your interest, and for spreading the word.

Meeting Your Nazi Neighbor

Yesterday’s New York Times included, prominently, this quite odd and disturbing, and now quite controversial, article on Tony Hovater.  He is a 27-year-old white male U.S. citizen who resides, with his wife, near Dayton, OH.  He longs for centralized power that he calls “fascism.”  He identifies himself as a “white nationalist.”  He studies, admires, and minimizes the evil of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich.  He, Mr. Hovater, is a disgusting bigot, an anti-Semite.  I’m sparing in name-calling, but it seems accurate to call him an American Nazi.

After reading and then rereading the article, and then reading some of the many good and varied comments on it, I’m glad that it exists.  It correctly appalls many, while educating them on who this man is, as an individual and as a type—inside vote totals and protest mobs are individuals, and it’s good to see one so closely.  (Here, reported in The Atlantic, is a long account of another, Andrew Anglin, who is much more horrifying because of the violence he threatens.)  And it’s good—well, not “good,” of course, but informative—to read and reflect on how Mr. Hovater feels empowered by President Trump.  The President of course (I wish), plus anyone who supports him even slightly, should read about Mr. Hovater and think more about the dangers of lighting fuses.

If Mr. Hovater worked for me, I’d probably fire him.

If he lived near me, I’d be a very concerned neighbor—I’d watch for bad behavior and, seeing anything, err on the side of calling the cops.  They serve the law and the general public—they’re on our side.

I hope that Mr. Hovater’s wife wakes up—I hope that she stays safe, gets interested in politics, gets smarter, and leaves him.

And I hope that Mr. Hovater gets interested to get smarter.  He needs teaching.  Some of it can come right from some of the books on Nazism and World War II that he owns and permitted the NYT  to photograph.  If he’s game to start studying and thinking critically and thus, objectively, better, I’d take him on as a student.  I hope that other teachers would too.  But I’d urge anyone to do this only very carefully—Hovater would have to be game, which seems very unlikely, and he would have to get to work and not just spout what the NYT story reports that he thinks currently.  Otherwise it wouldn’t be worth any serious teacher’s time.

The odds are that he will continue as he is, thinking and reading and speaking evil ideas.

That leaves me sad, and alarmed, and glad to live in a country with the constitutional fiber to protect all expression, even his.

“He’s Been Shot. HELP Him!”

I assume that when a police officer comes upon an injured, and especially a gravely injured, person, the officer typically calls for medical help (EMS) and then, while waiting for its arrival, provides whatever first aid and comfort the officer can.

This seems not to be happening in instances where the person has been injured by the police—and to be specific, where the person has been shot by the police.  This New York Times story chronicles a number of incidents, captured on publicly-released video, where recent police shootings have been followed by groups of officers standing around, just looking at the shot, often dying, person.

Many things might cause this inaction.  At the threshold, some situations and settings might be actively dangerous—a shot person is not automatically safe to approach or to touch.  Some officers, especially shooters, might also be in a kind of shock, frozen in the moment.  Some officers, not knowing much first aid, might feel unqualified to do anything.  Some shooting victims are, possibly, so obviously “gone” that nothing will aid them.  But some police inaction might be based in callousness, and in failures of trainers and commanders to encourage, direct and build human empathy.

We—society, and every police chief, and every individual officer—need to fix this.  Policing, properly done, is about law enforcement.  But it also is about caring for the community, and each person among us.  We recognize this in our constitutional law:  the Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, including touching and handling persons, but it is objectively reasonable for police officers to engage in searches and seizures when they are trying to help an injured person.  (See Chief Justice Roberts’s 2006 opinion for the unanimous Supreme Court in Brigham City v. Stuart.)

Yes, it can be constitutionally reasonable for the police to seize a person by, for valid reasons, shooting him or her—that is the lawful use of deadly force.  But even after a lawful seizure of a person, the government may not arbitrarily cause suffering.  (Think of a convicted criminal lawfully incarcerated.  The government has seized him.  But it may not then torture him or, without reason, deny him basic attention, care and sustenance.)

I have never come upon a shooting victim.  But I have seen injuries, and I have been injured—as you have too.  As a bystander, I’ve tried to help—to perform modest first aid, to speak words of comfort, to stay at the side of the person in pain.  As a victim, I’ve received the first aid, the kind words, the held hand, and I’ve been grateful.  It seems a basic thing that makes our world decent.

Our cops—our community caretakers—should jump in to care for injured people as much, as often, as reflexively, as they jump into situations to enforce our laws.  I believe that this instinct is already in most cops as people, or it was.  It should be reignited, trained, encouraged, rewarded, applauded.

Every victim of violence is a person whom the police have, commendably, sworn to protect.