Sometimes history and circumstance conspire to produce opportunity. One such nexus now centers on Buffalo, and we should seize the chance.
A Western New Yorker who has risen to the highest judicial post in the land, Chief Justice John Roberts of Hamburg, presides over the third branch of government. That branch now has a new multimillion-dollar courthouse in Buffalo, one that needs a name. Roberts could preside over the naming of that courthouse for a Western New York legal superstar -- one who richly deserves the honor.
Justice Robert H. Jackson is considered one of the most literate justices in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, the possessor of a stellar legal mind that more than 60 years ago shaped history and contributed procedures still in use in world courts today. There could be no more illustrious a name to pin on the new federal courthouse on Niagara Square.
Jackson was a graduate of Jamestown High School. Although he never graduated from college or law school, the clarity and precision of his language is the envy of most lawyers who have ever practiced law. Admitted to the practice of law at age 21, he lived in Buffalo on Johnson Park and worked in Ellicott Square. He became solicitor general of the United States, attorney general of the United States and associate justice of the Supreme Court. He created the Nuremberg trial procedure in his role as the chief prosecutor of the Nazi war criminals in 1946, and his marvelous work there was the genesis for the international law procedures that now govern the international prosecution of crimes against humanity.
Jackson is buried in Frewsburg Cemetery in Chautauqua County. I have made the pilgrimage to his gravesite, in company with some of the finest lawyers and judges in this community.
Too few citizens understand the role of the judicial branch of government in our democracy. Their view is enforced by the crass and exaggerated rhetoric in lawyer advertising. Judges and lawyers are not held in high regard. I have picked juries all over New York State in recent years in civil and criminal cases, and it's sad how little the ordinary Mary and Joe know about their government. Today, of course, too few kids in high school know anything about American history. Contributions by attorneys to the formation of our democracy over the years are little appreciated.
But Jackson was an extraordinary gentleman. He was a member of the Bar without an education, but so literate and special in what he did for his clients and his country. His name should grace our new federal courthouse.
Every person in the United States today should know that the rule of law governs human conduct. No greater example of that is found than in the professional life of Jackson, who is buried in a little country churchyard near the place he once called home.
Edward C. Cosgrove is a Western New York lawyer, former FBI agent and former Erie County district attorney.