The 50th Anniversary of the JFK Assassination at One First Street

November 24th, 2013

Alan Dershowitz recalls the events at the Supreme Court in 1963, during his clerkship with Justice Goldberg.

Shortly after I began working as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg I was in his secretary’s office while she was talking on the phone to her husband, who was an officer in the U.S. Armed Forces. He had something to do with communications, because he told her that shots had been fired in Dallas. We turned on a small television set that had been in my cubicle ever since I had brought it from home to watch the World Series a couple of months earlier. Nothing was yet on the news. A few minutes later everyone in the world knew that President Kennedy had been shot. It was a Friday and the justices were in their weekly conference, which no one else was allowed to attend. I had been given strict instructions never to interrupt the justices during one of these conferences, but I knew this was an exception. I went to the door of the conference room and knocked. Justice Goldberg, being the junior justice, answered and gave me a dirty look, saying, “I told you not to interrupt me.” I said, “Mr. Justice, you are going to want to know that the president has been shot.” Several of the justices immediately gathered around my TV, which, it turned out, was the only one in the entire Supreme Court building. We watched as the news got progressively worse, finally leading to the announcement that the president was dead. The chief justice asked the justices to disperse for fear that there might be a conspiracy involving attacks on other institutions, such as those that occurred following the Lincoln assassination. The clerks stayed behind.

That last bit is remarkable. CJ Warren had the wherewithal to consider this may be a conspiracy in the wake of the Lincoln Assassination, where other members of government were targeted.

Update: A reader writes in:

Funny that just last night I was reading Philip Shenon’s book that focuses mainly on the Warren Commission. He writes that the court was alerted by a typewritten note from Warren’s personal secretary that was delivered to the conference during its meeting. The book does not say who delivered the note, so I guess it could have been Dershowitz. But it certainly seems like a different version of what actually happened fro what Dershowitz said….

Also, another story of how the Justices were alerted of the death of former President Teddy Roosevelt: from The Great Dissent

On the morning of January 6, Attorney General Thomas Gregory walked into Court and announced that Theodore Roosevelt had died overnight at his home in Oyster Bay, Long Island. The news shook the capital, and the justices agreed to adjourn for two days out of respect for the former president.

As a result, oral arguments in Schenck, Frohwerk, and Debs were delayed.