Law Clerk Remembers Jackson, To Visit Friday

The former two-term law clerk to Robert H. Jackson who introduced Jackson to William Rehnquist is making a return trip to Jamestown.

On Friday, the visit of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to the Robert H. Jackson Center will also coincide with that of Phil C. Neal, who last visited the center in 2002.

Neal, a Chicago native, was the second law clerk to Jackson, serving for the 1943 and 1944 terms. Prior to his clerkship, he had attended and obtained a law degree from Harvard University, from which he graduated in 1943.

According to John Q. Barrett, professor of New York City’s St. John’s University School of Law and Jackson historian, Neal was an exceptional student at Harvard.

“(Neal) became a very successful student there,” said Barrett. “By the time he graduated, he was the president of the Harvard Law Review, which is a tremendous academic honor, and really a position of amazing power in the American legal academy for a young person to hold. He was then hired by Robert Jackson to be his law clerk beginning in 1943.”

Neal said that the chances of his being hired by Jackson were greatly increased due to the fact that he was schoolmates and friends with Jackson’s son, William.

During this time period, Neal assisted Jackson with writing the majority opinion of the Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, and Jackson’s dissenting opinion in the Korematsu v. United States decision.

During a 2002 interview at Chautauqua Institution, Neal described Jackson’s passionate and individualist personality.

“Jackson was somebody who never came to work, I think, without seeming that he was on top of the world and enjoying things. I never saw him down at the mouth. He always seemed to be on an even keel, and I think he enjoyed his work,” he said. “You’ve doubtless heard from others about the motto that Jackson had framed over his fireplace, ‘He travels the fastest who travels alone.'”

In his youth, Neal had suffered health issues which had prevented him from being eligible for military service during World War II. Barrett said that Neal should have served Jackson until the summer of 1945, but Felix Frankfurter, one of Jackson’s fellow Supreme Court justices, had taken an interest in Neal. Upon Neal’s expression of helping the peace effort as the war was drawing near to its conclusion, Frankfurter assisted Neal in interviewing for and obtaining a job with the state department in the United Nations project.

During his time with the United Nations, Neal spent some time on assignment in the San Francisco Bay area, where he decided to relocate. While there, he briefly practiced law with a firm, then joined members of the law faculty at Stanford Law School.

It was in this time period that Neal engineered the meeting between Jackson and then-student William Rehnquist. Neal had invited Jackson to dedicate a new building at the law school, and arranged for Rehnquist, who was Neal’s top student, to meet with Jackson. This was because, according to a Rehnquist interview, it was more difficult at that time for law students on the west coast to meet with Supreme Court justices and become law clerks.

“I had invited Jackson to come out and give a speech, which he was very gracious about doing. And it was on that occasion that I introduced him to Bill Rehnquist, and recommended Rehnquist for clerk,” said Neal. “(Rehnquist) was No. 1 in the class, president of the Law Review and just a very able guy. And so, the rest is history.”

In 1962, Neal returned to his hometown to become the dean of the University of Chicago Law School-a position he held for 13 years, later becoming a faculty member.

Neal left the law school in 1983 to return to private law practice, becoming co-founder of the Chicago-based firm Neal, Gerber and Eisenberg, LLP.

Neal is coming to the Jackson Center to meet E. Barrett Prettyman Jr., Jackson’s last law clerk. Prettyman served for the 1953 and 1954 terms, and went on to have his own distinguished career. Prettyman’s last visit to the Robert H. Jackson Center was in October, to attend the world premiere of a movie based on the life of Jackson.