Jack Greenberg (born December 22, 1924, in Brooklyn, New York) is an American attorney and legal scholar. He was the Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund from 1961 to 1984, succeeding Thurgood Marshall.
He was involved in numerous crucial cases, including Brown v. Board of Education. In all, he argued 40 civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He has served as Dean of Columbia College and Vice Dean of Columbia Law School, and is currently the Alphonse Fletcher Jr. Professor of Law at Columbia University’s Law School.
Education and career
Greenberg graduated from Columbia College in 1945, and Columbia Law School in 1948.
Civil and human rights lawyer
Greenberg became the only white legal counselor for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (“LDF”) in 1949, and, in 1961, succeeded Thurgood Marshall as LDF’s Director-Counsel.
Greenberg recalled his earliest arguments before the Supreme Court, saying:
“It was like a religious experience; the first few times I was there I was full of awe. I had an almost tactile feeling. The first time I was in the Court, I wasn’t arguing. I felt as if I were in a synagogue, and reached to see whether or not I had a yarmulke on. I thought I ought to have one on.”
In addition to arguing Brown v. Board of Education as co-counsel with Thurgood Marshall, other cases Greenberg argued include Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education, which ordered the end of segregated school systems “at once,” and Griggs v. Duke Power Company, which outlawed basing employment and promotion decisions on the results of tests with a discriminatory impact. He also argued Furman v. Georgia (1972), in which the Court held that the death penalty as it was then applied was a violation of the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause of the Eighth Amendment.
Greenberg is a founding member of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and of Human Rights Watch.
Greenberg was an adjunct professor at Columbia Law School from 1970–84, a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School in 1971, and a visiting professor at College of the City of New York in 1977.
He was appointed to co-teach a Harvard Law School class on race law in 1982 that had formerly been taught by Derrick Bell, who had resigned. When Black students questioned his selection, asking why a Black professor had not been appointed in his stead, Harvard stood by its choice. Black students boycotted the class, which ended up having a nearly all-White enrollment. On the first day of the class, Greenberg had to pass angry protesters. He recalled: “Someone said, ‘Aren’t you scared?’ I said, ‘No, I was on the beach at Iwo Jima.’ I wasn’t scared. But I was really damned annoyed.”
Greenberg left LDF in 1984 to become a professor and Vice Dean at Columbia Law School. He served as Dean of Columbia College from 1989 to 1993. Greenberg’s teaching interests include constitutional law, civil rights, and human rights law, civil procedure, “Kafka and the Law”, and South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution. As of fall 2009, Greenberg still taught at Columbia Law School, and served as a senior director of LDF.
He was also a distinguished visiting professor at University of Tokyo Faculty of Law in 1993-94 and at St. Louis University Law School in 1994, and a visiting professor at Lewis and Clark Law School in 1994 and 1996, at Princeton University in 1995, at University of Munich in 1998, at Tokyo University in 1996 and 1998, at University of Nuremberg-Erlangen in 1999-2000, and at Hebrew University in 2005.
Greenberg has varied intellectual interests: aside from several books on law and civil rights, including Crusaders in the Courts, he has written a cookbook (Dean Cuisine, with Harvard Law School Dean James Vorenberg, 1990), and appeared as a panelist for a New York Times tasting of Oregon pinot noir. He also edited Franz Kafka: The Office Writings (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008) with two other scholars.
In 2001, Greenberg was awarded a Presidential Citizens Medal. President Bill Clinton commented “In the courtroom and the classroom, Jack Greenberg has been a crusader for freedom and equality for more than half a century.” In 1998 he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1996 Greenberg was awarded the Thurgood Marshall Award by the American Bar Association for his long-term contributions to the advancement of civil rights, civil liberties, and human rights in the U.S. Greenberg received an honorary degree of doctor of laws from Notre Dame University in 2005. He also received an honorary degree from Howard University in 2004.
- Race Relations and American Law (1959)
- Litigation for Social Change (1973)
- Cases and Materials on Judicial Process and Social Change (1976)
- Dean Cuisine: The Liberated Man’s Guide to Fine Cooking (with Vorenberg, 1991)
- Crusaders in the Courts: How a Dedicated Band of Lawyers Fought for the Civil Rights Revolution (1994)
- Crusaders in the Courts; Legal Battles of the Civil Rights Movement (2004)
- Brown v. Board of Education; Witness to A Landmark Decision (2004)