For the Jackson List:
In late 1952, Justice Robert H. Jackson hired E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr., to be his law clerk. Prettyman then was a third year law student at the University of Virginia. He also was the son of Barrett Sr., who Jackson first met when he came to Washington in 1934.
The senior Prettymans (Barrett Sr. and his wife Lucy) and the Jacksons (Bob and his wife Irene) became friends, sometimes socializing together. The men also were in the same line of work—they were lawyers, sometimes government lawyers, and ultimately federal judges, Jackson on the Supreme Court of the United States and Prettyman Sr. on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
“Young Barrett” began his clerkship with Jackson in July 1953. Prettyman did excellent work and Jackson enjoyed his company. In early 1954, he asked Prettyman to stay on for a second year and he accepted.
During Prettyman’s clerkship, he had the experience of visiting Jackson at his home, Hickory Hill, in McLean, Virginia. Prettyman would deliver law books, legal briefs, and other materials to Jackson at home on weekends. When Prettyman arrived, he typically would find Jackson working on the screen porch off the kitchen. They would talk a bit, Prettyman would hand over his deliveries, and then he would leave Jackson to his work.
Justice Jackson’s health failed during Prettyman’s clerkship. After a major heart attack in spring 1954, Jackson recovered enough to resume work that summer. In the fall, only a week into the Court’s new term, Jackson suffered a fatal heart attack. Barrett Prettyman thus was Jackson’s law clerk for a little over a year. In what would have been the remainder of Prettyman’s second clerkship year with Jackson, Justice Felix Frankfurter and then, following his appointment as Jackson’s successor, Justice John M. Harlan, each employed Prettyman as a law clerk. He thus had the distinction of clerking for three Supreme Court justices during a two-year period.
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During his Jackson clerkship, Barrett Prettyman passed the District of Columbia bar examination and was admitted to law practice.
After some years in private practice, Prettyman became a special assistant to U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. As Attorney General, Kennedy was serving in the Cabinet office that had been Robert Jackson’s during 1940-41.
Some years earlier, Robert Kennedy, his wife Ethel, and their growing family also had become occupants of Bob and Irene Jackson’s former home, Hickory Hill. It was Robert Kennedy’s home, and famously so, for the rest of his life.
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On June 4, 1968, after winning California’s Democratic presidential primary, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Gravely wounded, he was taken to a hospital where doctors worked to save his life. It soon was clear that the prognosis was bleak.
Barrett Prettyman was in the Midwest when he learned that Senator Kennedy had been shot. Prettyman contacted a colleague in Los Angeles and asked how he could help. He was told to join former astronaut John Glenn, a close Kennedy friend, and others at Hickory Hill, where they were caring for the younger Kennedy children and preparing for horrible news.
Prettyman arrived at Hickory Hill on the evening of Wednesday, June 5, 1968. He talked to Glenn and others. Glenn announced that he was going upstairs to get some sleep, and that Prettyman should wake him when the call came from Los Angeles. Prettyman wandered the ground floor of the house. He walked back into the kitchen, turned right, looked out onto the screen porch, recalled happy visits to that place.…
Prettyman laid down on the living room sofa and tried to sleep. It did not come. He was awake when the call came, sometime around midnight local time. He then went upstairs, woke John Glenn, and reported that Senator Kennedy was gone.
My friend Barrett Prettyman, who lived on for almost fifty more years after June 1968, shared these memories with me and others many times. One of his tellings, captured on video:
I saw Barrett choke up every time he recalled and tried to speak about the loss of Robert F. Kennedy. That is, still, the only proper reaction.
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 email@example.com. Thank you for your interest, and for spreading the word.