The life of Arthur J. Goldberg was a classic rags to riches story in the tradition of Horatio Alger. He was born in 1908 on the west side of Chicago. Arthur was the youngest of eight children of Russian Jewish immigrants. His father was a peddler who delivered fresh produce in a horse-drawn wagon until his heart gave out in 1916. After their father's death, the seven older children quit school to go to work in order to support the family. But as the youngest at only 8, Arthur was encouraged to continue his education. Starting at the age of 12 after school and on weekends he worked odd jobs wrapping fish, selling shoes, and selling coffee to Cub fans at Wrigley Field.
In 1924, Arthur was just 16. All Chicago newspapers that year were intensely covering the trial of two wealthy University of Chicago students, 19-year old Nathan Leopold and 18-year old Richard Loeb for the cruel and sadistic murder of their 14-year old neighbor, Bobby Franks. While the crime was premediated and grisly, the families of Leopold and Loeb got the help of legendary Chicago attorney Clarence Darrow who was able to persuade a judge to give them life imprisonment rather than the death penalty. Arthur Goldberg became interested in the law because of reading about this famous trial.
In 1929, and the age of only 19, Arthur graduated from Northwestern University School of Law magna cum laude. In 1930 he received a JSD (Juris Scientiae Doctor) degree also from Northwestern. He was admitted to the Illinois Bar over some objections due to his youth since he was still only 20 years old. Arthur became a labor law expert during the Great Depression and served as a Major in the U.S. Army in World War II. In 1948 he became counsel to the United Steelworkers of America. By 1955, he was a legal advisor to both the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) just before the two labor organizations merged into the AFL-CIO. President John F. Kennedy appointed Goldberg as Secretary of Labor in January 1961.
In 1963, President Kennedy nominated Goldberg to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court where he served for three years. In a very unusual move, Goldberg agreed to a request by President Johnson in 1965 to become Ambassador to the United Nations after the death of former Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson made that post vacant. Goldberg resigned in 1968, practiced law in New York, and was nominated by the Democratic Party to run for governor of New York in 1970 against incumbent Republican Nelson Rockefeller. Goldberg lost by a wide margin and eventually returned to Virginia to pracice law in a Washington, DC office and died in 1990 leaving his wife and two children as survivors.
Arthur Goldberg was a liberal most of the time but not always. He later said he favored withdrawl from Viet Nam after 1965. But he dissented from the idea that the wall of separation between church and state meant that religion had no place in the public square. In a concurring opinion with Justice Harlan in Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963), Goldberg carefully parsed why he agreed that proscribed Bible reading at a public school in Pennsylvania was violative of the First Amendment, but also predicted that this type of ruling in a line of cases could lead to a more hostile official attitude toward religion in the future. Justice Goldberg wrote:
"It is said, and I agree, that the attitude of government toward religion must be one of neutrality. But untutored devotion to the concept of neutrality can lead to invocation or approval of results which partake not simply of that noninterference and noninvolvement with the religious which the Constitution commands, but of a brooding and pervasive devotion to the secular, and a passive, even active, hostility to the religious. Such results are not only not compelled by the Constitution, but, it seems to me, are prohibited by it."