E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr., Robert H. Jackson's last law clerk, paid a visit to the Jackson Center on Friday.
Prettyman is in town to attend the world premiere for a movie which is based on the life of Jackson. Prettyman had originally intended on arriving in Jamestown on Thursday to speak, however due to flight delays, was unable to arrive until Friday.
As aforementioned, Prettyman served as Robert H. Jackson's final law clerk, and in his service of Jackson has compiled an impressive rapport with names such as Kennedy, Capote, Castro and of course Jackson.
Pictured from left are John Q. Barrett, Greg Peterson, David Crane, Robert H. Jackson Center chair; Thomas Loftus, grandson of Robert H. Jackson; and E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr., Robert H. Jackson’s last law clerk. Prettyman paid a visit to the Jackson Center Friday, prior to attending the world premier of “Liberty Under Law: The Robert H. Jackson Story,” at the Struthers Library Theater in Warren.
P-J photo by Gavin Paterniti
"Mr. Prettyman was enrolled in the University of Virginia where Robert Kennedy attended," said Greg Peterson, partner at Phillips Lytle LLP. "He was not only Robert Jackson's sole law clerk, but after Jackson died, he became a law clerk for Felix Frankfurter and John Marshall Harlan, which makes him the only person to clerk for three Supreme Court Justices."
With regards to his relationship with Jackson, Prettyman described him as a very complicated man.
"He really had two sides to him," said Prettyman. "One side was very jovial and very becoming, and he acted as though he was being absolutely informative. However, there was a side of him that you could not get beneath and he was very protective of his privacy. I didn't get to know him all that well until he asked me to serve a second term. We went on a trip on a boat and on the way back, he said, 'we get along pretty well, don't we?' I replied, 'yeah, I guess we do.' He had never said a single word to me up until that point."
Prettyman worked under Jackson during seminal cases such as Brown v. Board of Education, which was the Supreme Court Case which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson. As a result, de jure racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
"I was a member of a small committee designed to find out where blacks lived in connection with the schools they attended and in connection with the white schools to find out what the situation was before they issued a ruling," said Prettyman. "I was intimately involved in that. When the decree came down, I was very involved in that. There was some confusion as to how to write a decree about integrating schools. We weren't sure if you move white teachers and students to black schools or if you bus the black students to the white schools do you do a lot of things or not? We didn't know if there was going to be blood in the streets as a result of the decree we really didn't know if this would lead to (deaths). It made us very nervous. Jackson showed his opinion by leaving the hospital against his doctor's orders so he could be on the bench when they announced Brown. He was very sick during the whole event and died of a heart attack not long after that, but he made sure that (nothing) would keep him away from the trial."
Prettyman has the honor of saying that he was Jackson's only law clerk. Traditionally, Justices would keep two law clerks, but Jackson decided against the practice.
"When I was being interviewed by Jackson, in the middle of it, he spoke frankly with me," said Prettyman. "He said: 'Barrett, let's cut through this. I'll never have two law clerks again, but if you would be my only law clerk, you've got the job.' I said very enthusiastically, yes."
Currently, Prettyman serves as a boardmember for the Jackson Center and attempts to be at the center whenever important decisions are being made.
On Friday night, Prettyman attended the premier of the movie on Jackson in Warren, Pa.
Gavin Paterniti contributed to this story.