Thursday, November 30, 2017
During the summers, I usually teach War Crimes and Courts-Martial. The class is pretty popular. We focus on the third and fourth Geneva Conventions and battlefield conduct. We have, unfortunately, lots of current events to incorporate into our discussions. I start the class with the Nuremberg Trials. Through this introduction to the first major international effort to make leaders subject to humanitarian law, Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson looms large. He was a key figure in guiding the structure and process of holding war criminals accountable. For that accomplishment alone, he rightfully deserves a laudable mention in our history. But Justice Jackson did more than serve as prosecutor at Nuremberg. In addition to serving as a justice on the Supreme Court, he was also the Solicitor General and Attorney General - the only person to have ever held all three posts. And all without a law degree.
Justice Jackson is the last person to sit on the Supreme Court who did not have a law degree. He studied briefly at Albany Law School, but undertook to read the law with his uncle. He earned a certificate of completion and passed the bar in 1913. Through my admiration of Justice Jackson I happened upon a website devoted to his life called The Jackson List. Professor John Q. Barrett is writing a biography of Jackson and maintains his research and writings on the site. Prof. Barrett also sends out periodic emails to subscribers (of which I am one!). The website offers information much more personal and intimate than generic biographies. I highly recommend perusing the site, clicking on any number of fascinating essays, and certainly subscribing to the list.
Justice Jackson is well-known for his dissent in Korematsu, for his quip on the Supreme Court, "We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final," and for being a strong defender of procedural due process. Dive into The Jackson List to learn more about the man, the attorney, and the judge, and contemplate how his legacy may provide guidance as we struggle with these same concepts today.