For two hours Friday, the city of Jamestown belonged to Robert H. Jackson.
No cars. No sirens. Nowhere to find a parking spot.
Thousands gathered downtown to hear U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts speak from the front porch of the Robert H. Jackson Center. The historic visit that attracted almost 2,000 area students and numerous elected officials comes 10 years after the dedication of the Jackson Center by Roberts' predecessor, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.
Jackson, a former resident of Frewsburg, was an associate justice of the Supreme Court from 1941-54. He was born in Warren County, Pa.
"It's great to be back home," said Roberts, a Buffalo native. "We are here to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the dedication of the Jackson Center."
"I am especially proud to share this anniversary celebration," he said. "This center is an appropriate monument to its namesake who is well-known for his learning and eloquence."
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts speaks in front of a crowd at the Robert H. Jackson Center on Friday.
P-J photo by Remington Whitcomb
In his half-hour speech, Roberts detailed Jackson's career within the courts, from a prominent lawyer in Jamestown to U.S. Attorney General to justice of the Supreme Court. Jackson's role as chief counsel for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals following World War II also was highlighted.
"Even as Supreme Court justice," Roberts said, "Jackson answered a further calling of government service, and took on one of the most challenging assignments of his extraordinary life."
Roberts compared the Supreme Court when Jackson was active to the court today. He noted - humorously on a few occasions - that current renovation and construction at the court building in Washington, D.C. would have shocked the former justice.
Other notable changes Jackson would notice today: the Supreme Court is closed to the public on Saturdays; business by the court begins two hours early, at 10 a.m., than in the past; and court decisions can be read any day of the week, not just on Mondays as when Jackson was a member.
Reaction of Roberts' visit was overwhelmingly positive.
"It was very exciting to see Chief Justice Roberts in Jamestown to help remember Robert H. Jackson," Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards told The Post-Journal. "To have a second sitting chief justice visit here sends a great message."
James Johnson, president and CEO of the Jackson Center, said he was pleased to see a large turnout of schoolchildren. The event, he said, had a heavy emphasis on education.
"I think things went very, very well," Johnson said, noting Roberts' visit had been in the works for more than seven years. "I couldn't even guess how many people were there. It was an immense crowd and it takes a lot of coordination."
Greg Peterson, Jackson Center co-founder and board member, kicked off Friday's gathering. John Barrett, professor at St. John's University School of Law and honored guest, officially introduced the chief justice. Father Moritz Fuchs, a former bodyguard for Jackson and currently of the Syracuse Diocese, provided the invocation.
A bust of Jackson was presented by Johnson; David Crane, board chairman; and Thomas Loftus III, Jackson's grandson.