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Profile: Robert Jackson

Robert Jackson was a participant or observer in the following events:

Chief Justice Fred Vinson.Chief Justice Fred Vinson. [Source: Kansas State Historical Society]The US Supreme Court upholds the power of the federal government’s executive branch to withhold documents from a civil suit on the basis of executive privilege and national security (see October 25, 1952). The case, US v Reynolds, overturns an appellate court decision that found against the government (see December 11, 1951). Originally split 5-4 on the decision, the Court goes to 6-3 when Justice William O. Douglas joins the majority. The three dissenters, Justices Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, and Robert Jackson, refuse to write a dissenting opinion, instead adopting the decision of the appellate court as their dissent.
'State Secrets' a Valid Reason for Keeping Documents out of Judicial, Public Eye - Chief Justice Fred Vinson writes the majority opinion. Vinson refuses to grant the executive branch the near-unlimited power to withhold documents from judicial review, as the government’s arguments before the court implied (see October 21, 1952), but instead finds what he calls a “narrower ground for defense” in the Tort Claims Act, which compels the production of documents before a court only if they are designated “not privileged.” The government’s claim of privilege in the Reynolds case was valid, Vinson writes. But the ruling goes farther; Vinson upholds the claim of “state secrets” as a reason for withholding documents from judicial review or public scrutiny. In 2008, author Barry Siegel will write: “In truth, only now was the Supreme Court formally recognizing the privilege, giving the government the precedent it sought, a precedent binding on all courts throughout the nation. Most important, the Court was also—for the first time—spelling out how the privilege should be applied.” Siegel will call the Reynolds ruling “an effort to weigh competing legitimate interests,” but the ruling does not allow judges to see the documents in order to make a decision about their applicability in a court case: “By instructing judges not to insist upon examining documents if the government can satisfy that ‘a reasonable danger’ to national security exists, Vinson was asking jurists to fly blind.” Siegel will mark the decision as “an act of faith. We must believe the government,” he will write, “when it claims [the accident] would reveal state secrets. We must trust that the government is telling the truth.”
Time of Heightened Tensions Drives Need for Secrecy - Vinson goes on to note, “[W]e cannot escape judicial notice that this is a time of vigorous preparation for the national defense.” Locked in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and fighting a war in Korea, the US is, Vinson writes, in a time of crisis, and one where military secrets must be kept and even encouraged. [U. S. v. Reynolds, 3/9/1953; Siegel, 2008, pp. 171-176]
Future Ramifications - Reflecting on the decision in 2008, Siegel will write that while the case will not become as well known as many other Court decisions, it will wield significant influence. The ruling “formally recognized and established the framework for the government’s ‘state secrets’ privilege—a privilege that for decades had enabled federal agencies to conceal conduct, withhold documents, and block civil litigation, all in the name of national secrecy.… By encouraging judicial deference when the government claimed national security secrets, Reynolds had empowered the Executive Branch in myriad ways. Among other things, it had provided a fundamental legal argument for much of the Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Enemy combatants such as Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001) and Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002), for many months confined without access to lawyers, had felt the breath of Reynolds. So had the accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui when federal prosecutors defied a court order allowing him access to other accused terrorists (see March 22, 2005). So had the Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar (see September 26, 2002), like dozens of others the subject of a CIA extraordinary rendition to a secret foreign prison (see After September 11, 2001). So had hundreds of detainees at the US Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, held without charges or judicial review (see September 27, 2001). So had millions of American citizens, when President Bush, without judicial knowledge or approval, authorized domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency (see Early 2002). US v. Reynolds made all this possible. The bedrock of national security law, it had provided a way for the Executive Branch to formalize an unprecedented power and immunity, to pull a veil of secrecy over its actions.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. ix-x]

Entity Tags: William O. Douglas, Zacarias Moussaoui, US Supreme Court, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Robert Jackson, Jose Padilla, Felix Frankfurter, Bush administration (43), Fred Vinson, Barry Siegel, George W. Bush, Hugo Black, Maher Arar

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

William Rehnquist.William Rehnquist. [Source: US Department of Justice]Associate Justice William Rehnquist becomes Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. A strict conservative, Rehnquist will oversee the transformation of the Court from a middle-of-the-road, sometimes left-leaning instrument into a conservative entity dominated by the “axis” of Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia (see September 26, 1986), and Clarence Thomas (see July 2-August 28, 1991). [Legal Times, 9/5/2005]
False Testimony? - According to former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, writing in his 2007 book Broken Government, Rehnquist is the first true conservative fundamentalist to be appointed to the Court, “and he would set a pattern for other fundamentalists who found it necessary to make their way through the confirmation process by deception.” Dean, and others, have alleged that Rehnquist lied to the Senate both in his 1971 appointment to the Court as an associate judge (see January 7, 1972) and in his 1986 hearings for becoming chief justice. Dean will write that Rehnquist’s testimony during both sets of Senate confirmations hearings was “conspicuously false,” and in 1986 he committed “pure perjury.” In both sets of hearings, Rehnquist was embarrassed by a 1952 memo he had written while clerking for then-Justice Robert Jackson, in which Rehnquist had urged Jackson not to vote in support of the Brown v. Board of Education verdict that overturned the “separate but equal” clause that allowed for state-sponsored segregation. Although it is clear Rehnquist was stating his own pro-segregationist views, he apparently lied to the Senate over this memo as well, claiming that the memo was written to reflect Jackson’s own views and not his own. Dean will write, “It was an absurd contention, and a defamation of the dead justice for which he worked.” Law professor Laura Ray will observe in 1996: “With the [top] seat on the Supreme Court almost in his grasp, Rehnquist may well have retreated from an uncomfortable position taken almost twenty years earlier in the only way that seemed open to him. That such a step might tarnish the reputation of Justice Jackson years after his death does not seem to have been a concern.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 129-137]

Entity Tags: Robert Jackson, William Rehnquist, US Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, John Dean, Laura Ray, Antonin Scalia

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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