Only WNY Native Who Served on Supreme Court Recognized on House Floor
November 16, 2011
In a speech on the Floor of the House of Representatives, Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) told the story of Robert H. Jackson, the only Western New Yorker to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and one of the most prominent legal minds of all time. While there are several outstanding Western New Yorkers contributing throughout history to our community and nation, Higgins says naming the new U.S. Federal Courthouse in Buffalo for Jackson is most fitting.
Below is the text of Congressman Higgins’ remarks:
“Mister Speaker, on November twenty eighth a new federal courthouse will open in Western New York. Located on historic Niagara Square in Buffalo’s central business district, the ten story structure will be home to the United States District Court for the Western District of New York.
“The striking profile of the Courthouse is a reminder that Buffalo’s future is connected to its unique architectural heritage. As we draw inspiration for our future from this impressive building, I can think of no name more fitting to grace it than one from our past, that of Western New York's only Supreme Court Justice, Robert. H. Jackson.
“Robert Jackson was born just over the state line in Pennsylvania and was raised near Jamestown, New York. He spent the first forty two years of his life in Western New York and for a time lived on Johnson Park which is in the shadow of the new courthouse, and practiced law in the historic Ellicott Square building. He was a prominent local attorney until, in 1934, President Roosevelt called him to public service in Washington.
“After stints as Assistant Attorney General for Tax and Antitrust, Jackson was appointed U.S. Solicitor General. He personally argued more than thirty cases before the Supreme Court on which he would later sit. Louis Brandeis, who was a Supreme Court Justice at the time, said of Jackson that was so good he, quote "should be Solicitor General for life."
“But Jackson was soon tapped to head the Justice Department as the U.S. Attorney General. He was instrumental in helping President Roosevelt formulate America’s national security policies as the United States headed toward inevitable involvement in World War Two.
“In 1941 Roosevelt appointed Jackson to the United States Supreme Court. He remains to this day the only Supreme Court Justice from Western New York. He served on the Court for thirteen terms and took part in several important decisions, none bigger than the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education, which prohibited segregation.
“Justice Jackson was known on the Court for personally authoring thoughtful and compelling opinions. The leading constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe called Jackson, “The most piercingly eloquent writer ever to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.”
“In 1945 President Truman asked Jackson to take leave from the Court to serve as the United States’ Chief Prosecutor at the International Military Tribunal -- what we have come to know as the Nuremberg Trials. Jackson was the chief prosecutor of Nazi war criminals and was responsible for achieving consensus among the Allies on the design and implementation of the trials. Some believe that the year Jackson spent away from the Court cost him a chance at being elevated to Chief Justice. But Jackson argued that it was the most important work of his life.
“True to his Western New York roots, immediately upon returning from Europe Jackson took a train to Buffalo to address the University of Buffalo’s centennial. He spoke eloquently on the subjects of war, international law, and the need for countries to work together for peace.
“Robert Jackson died in 1954 and is buried at Maple Grove Cemetery in Frewsburg, New York, not far from his childhood home.
“The federal judges and U.S. Attorney of the Western District of New York have endorsed naming the courthouse in Jackson’s honor.
“Chief Judge Skretny called him, quote “the most distinguished jurist and most acclaimed legal mind to come out of the Western District.”
“And Senior Judge Curtin said of Jackson, quote “I think we should pick someone from the court family in Western New York… I can't think of a better choice."
“Mr. Speaker, Justice Jackson’s story is a uniquely American story, and it is a uniquely Western New York story.
“I will soon introduce legislation to name our new courthouse for Robert H. Jackson, and I invite my colleagues to support this effort.”