Justice Robert H. Jackson

Justice Robert H. Jackson joined the U.S. Supreme Court on July 11, 1941, filling a seat left vacant by Justice Harlan Fiske Stone when he was elevated to Chief Justice. Jackson was born on February 13, 1892 in northwestern Pennsylvania but grew up in western New York. He never went to college and spent only a year in law school, attending Albany Law School in 1911-1912. However, Jackson was admitted to the New York bar in 1913 and entered private practice.

In 1934, Jackson joined the federal government as General Counsel for the Bureau of Internal Revenue in the U.S. Department of the Treasury. He then became an Assistant Attorney General in the Tax Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in 1936 and an Assistant Attorney General in the Antitrust Division in 1937. About a year later, in March 1938, Jackson was appointed as U.S. Solicitor General. He spent about 22 months in that role, arguing 44 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and losing only six. At the beginning of 1940, Jackson became U.S. Attorney General.

On June 12, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt nominated Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on July 7, and he took the judicial oath four days later. Jackson is probably best remembered for one of the most famous concurrences in Supreme Court history.

In Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, the Court considered whether President Harry Truman had the power to seize steel mills to facilitate production during the Korean War. Justice Hugo Black wrote the majority opinion, ruling against Truman. Jackson agreed with the result but provided a novel tripartite framework that would shape future review of executive actions and related separation of powers concerns. He distinguished among situations when the President acts with authority from Congress, when Congress has been silent, and when the President acts contrary to the will of Congress.

Jackson also bolstered First Amendment rights in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, which held that students in public schools cannot be required to salute the flag or recite the pledge of allegiance. He deserves credit for dissenting from the notorious decision in Korematsu v. U.S., which condoned Japanese-American internment camps during the Second World War on national security grounds. When the war ended, Truman appointed Jackson as chief U.S. prosecutor in the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals. This led to his absence from the Court during the 1945-1946 term.

Jackson died on October 9, 1954 in Washington, D.C. All eight of the remaining Supreme Court Justices traveled together by train to Jamestown, New York for his funeral. Jackson was replaced on the Court by Justice John Marshall Harlan II.

Selected Opinions by Justice Jackson:

Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (Jackson concurrence) (1952)

Topic: Separation of Powers; Immigration & National Security

When the President acts pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress, his authority is at its maximum, for it includes all that he possesses in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate. When the President acts in absence of either a congressional grant or denial of authority, he can only rely upon his independent powers, but there is a zone of twilight in which the President and Congress may have concurrent authority, or in which its distribution is uncertain. When the President takes measures incompatible with the express or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb, for then he can rely only upon his own constitutional powers minus any constitutional powers of Congress over the matter.

Harisiades v. Shaughnessy (1952)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

Congress could authorize the deportation of a legally resident foreign national because of membership in the Communist Party, even though their membership terminated before the enactment of the law. Immigration policy is so exclusively entrusted to the political branches of the government that it is largely immune from judicial inquiry or interference.

Great Atlantic Pacific & Tea Co. v. Supermarket Equipment Corp. (1950)

Topic: Patents

The mere combination of a number of old parts or elements that, in combination, perform or produce no new or different function or operation than that previously performed or produced by them is not a patentable invention.

Graver Tank & Mfg. Co. v. Linde Air Products Co. (1950)

Topic: Patents

In determining equivalents in a patent infringement case, consideration must be given to the purpose for which an ingredient is used in a patent, the qualities that it has when combined with other ingredients, the functions that it is intended to perform, and whether persons reasonably skilled in the art would have known of the interchangeability of an ingredient not contained in the patent with one that was.

Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co. (1950)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures; Due Process

A fundamental requirement of due process in any proceeding that is to be accorded finality is notice reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections.

Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert (1947)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

Important considerations in the application of the forum non conveniens doctrine from the standpoint of litigants are relative ease of access to sources of proof, availability of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling witnesses, cost of obtaining attendance of willing witnesses, the possibility of viewing the premises if appropriate, and other practical problems that make trial of a case easy, expeditious, and inexpensive. Considerations of public interest include the undesirability of piling up litigation in congested centers, the burden of jury duty on people of a community with no relation to the litigation, the local interest in having localized controversies decided at home, and the unnecessary injection of problems in conflict of laws. (Forum non conveniens allows a court to dismiss a case when another court is clearly better positioned to hear it.)

Cramer v. U.S. (1945)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

When an indictment charges treason by giving aid and comfort to enemies of the U.S., this requires proof of an overt act by the accused that is sufficient in its setting to sustain a finding that they actually gave aid and comfort to the enemy. Simply meeting and talking with the enemy is not enough.

Skidmore v. Swift & Co. (1944)

Topic: Labor & Employment; Government Agencies

Rulings, interpretations, and opinions of agency administrators are not controlling on courts but provide a body of experience and informed judgment that courts can use for guidance. The weight of such a judgment depends on the thoroughness evident in its consideration, the validity of its reasoning, its consistency with earlier and later pronouncements, and all those factors that give it power to persuade, if lacking power to control. Also, no principle of law precludes a determination that waiting time is working time under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

J.I. Case Co. v. NLRB (1944)

Topic: Labor & Employment

The fact that an employer has individual contracts of employment with a majority of its employees does not preclude the employees from exercising their right under the National Labor Relations Act to choose a representative for collective bargaining, nor does it warrant refusal by the employer to bargain with this representative regarding terms covered by the individual contracts.

West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)

Topic: Religion; Free Speech

The action of a state in making it compulsory for children in public schools to salute the flag and pledge allegiance violates the First Amendment. The issue does not turn on the possession of particular religious views or the sincerity with which they are held. (This decision overturned Gobitis.)

Wickard v. Filburn (1942)

Topic: Powers of Congress

The fact that a certain party's contribution to the demand for a commodity may be trivial by itself is not enough to remove them from the scope of federal regulation when their contribution, taken together with that of many others similarly situated, is far from trivial.