Speech Focuses On Jackson’s Legacy

A chief justice of the United States returned to Jamestown on Friday.

Ten years ago, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was here for the dedication of the Robert H. Jackson Center.

On Friday, current U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was in Jamestown to mark the 10th anniversary of the center.

Nearly 2,000 students from 24 schools, including Youngsville High School, Eisenhower High School, and Warren Area High School, attended the event.

“This is a special day for our entire community, for it was virtually 10 years ago that we were privileged to have with us the chief justice of the United States, William H. Rehnquist, dedicate this Robert H. Jackson Center with a mission to preserve, promote and advance the legacy of Justice Jackson through education, exhibitry and events which emphasize the current relevance of Justice Jackson’s ideas on individual freedom and justice,” said Greg Peterson, co-founder and Robert H. Jackson Center board member.

Robert H. Jackson was born in Spring Creek Township in Warren County, brought up in the Frewsburg area and went on to work as a lawyer in Chautauqua County before he served on the Supreme Court from 1941-54. Jackson was also appointed chief prosecutor for the Nuremberg Trials in 1945 by President Harry Truman where he laid the foundation for today’s international criminal tribunals.

“This center is an appropriate monument to its namesake, who was well-known for his learning and eloquence. The center provides a dynamic home for study, dialogue and discussion here in the heart of Jackson country. It is easy for those of us who live in Washington to forget that Robert Jackson was shaped by this beautiful rural region,” Roberts said.

After practicing law in the area for 20 years, Jackson left for Washington in 1934 and within eight years went from a country lawyer to general counsel for the Bureau of Revenue, to Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department Anti-Trust Division to Solicitor General to Attorney General, to Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

In his 13 years on the Supreme Court, Jackson delivered 154 opinions of the court, 46 concurrent opinions, 115 dissents and 15 separate opinions concurring in part and dissenting in part, Roberts said.

“His decisions reflect extraordinary insight and craftsmanship. Many are and will continue to be lodestars of American jurisprudence. The Jackson Center chronicles that extraordinary career, and it serves as a vibrant reminder that the good works of great men endure beyond their own limited years,” Roberts said.

Roberts described the physical and procedural evolution over the 60 years since Jackson served on the court while emphasizing the inherent pursuit of justice that has remained the duty of the nine Supreme Court members.

If Jackson were to return to the court today he would find physical changes and additions to the Supreme Court building and the court’s library would be nearly empty, as clerks now research with computers; the court room has changed little in appearance since 1954, except for a slightly curved bench for the justices, “partially surrounding arguing counsel just in case they were not intimidated enough”; four small desks in the well of the court where decisions were “literally handed down to court reporters sitting at those desks” and placed in pneumatic tubes and sent to the wire service reporters downstairs.

The composition of the court has changed drastically from nine men in Jackson’s day, with only one member holding prior experience as a judge to today which includes three women and eight of the nine members were judges before joining the Supreme Court.

Jackson would probably be most interested in changes to oral argument, where the court used to allow two hours of argument, one hour for each side. It now allows only 30 minutes for each side. That has cut down on counsel’s “leisurely discourse with the court” and “counsel must be prepared for aggressive questioning from the bench. I believe Jackson would have approved of that change,” Roberts said.