Gus Solomon II
Bill Long 10/11/04
Earliest Days (1906-1945)
In situating Gus Solomon firmly in the life of Portland and Oregon in the first half of the 20th century, Dr. Stein has provided a helpful context in which to understand the man who was judge during the second half of the century. Three points he makes about the "first half" of Solomon's life are worth mentioning.
When you say that someone is from a Jewish background, it really doesn't tell you much. It may explain some things about temperament and commitment, but you have to dig more deeply below the surface of the person's life. Gus Solomon was the son of Eastern European immigrant Jews who came to America in the 1880s/1890s. I think that says a lot right there. The Eastern European countries were Romania (father) and Russia (Ukraine--mother), and the legendary hardships, persecutions, pogroms and exclusions of Jews from those lands shaped his consciousness. But, his sentiments were also shaped by the fact that he wasn't a German Jew and therefore was exluded not simply from Portland high society but Portland Jewish "high" society.
The leading Jewish families of German extraction in Portland at that time, the Meier's and Frank's, were from the same religion as Solomon, but their social experience was so different as if to suggest another universe. In addition, the Eastern European origin led to experiences of discrimination both in high school, college, law school and in his being unable to secure a job in a prestigious Portland law firm after law school. Resentment, no doubt, was a real and living reality for him all his days, and it probably explains his later treatment of attorneys who argued before him. Nevertheless, he made it to the top, the pinnacle of his profession, despite the fact of this odious discrimination. He thus was sympathetic to plights of other disadvantaged groups, though seemingly merciless toward the lawyers who came into his courtroom.
Birth Date as Destiny
Two realities that determined his destiny were the date of his parents' immigration and the date of his law school graduation. His parents were born in the 1870s and came to the United States a full twelve (mother) to twenty years (father) before Gus was born. This is significant because when Gus was born his parents had already begun the process of assimilation to such a degree that Gus would never have an accent as he spoke English. Even so seemingly trivial a thing as an accent shapes destinies.
Second, Gus graduated from law school in 1929. He tried to find a job at the beginning of the Great Depression. Thus, the realities that shaped his understanding of law and his first experiences in it were those brought on by the Depression, the public power movement of the early 1930s and issues surrounding the communist party, syndicalism laws and the growing debate over free speech and the first amendment. Had he gone to law school a few years later, graduating possibly in 1935 (he attended both Columbia and Stanford), he would have graduated just as Roosevelt's New Deal was taking shape and would probably have ended up in one of the numerous federal bureaucracies that redefined the American political landscape. Instead, he was shaped by the hardscrabble reality of making a life in Portland, OR as a lawyer from a religious minority when very few jobs were to be had in law. This reality also contributed to the third point, to wit, his role in DeJonge v. Oregon, a landmark US Supreme Court case overturning Oregon's criminal syndicalism law as it related to DeJonge.
DeJonge v. Oregon
Dirk DeJonge was arrested in Portland on July 27, 1934 as a speaker at an orderly rally called by the Communist Party. At the rally, he did not counsel violence or overthrow of the American system. Nevertheless, the Oregon syndicalism law, passed after WWI, made it a crime to participate in a meeting called by a party supposedly teaching and advocating violent overthrow of the government. DeJonge was convicted at trial, and the Oregon Supreme Court upheld his conviction. Solomon was involved in the appellate process by virture of being a cooperating attorney with the ACLU. He then urged the ACLU (or a radical group, the ILD) to appeal DeJonge's conviction to the US Supreme Court. With the aid of Allan Hart, a recent Yale Law School graduate (recently deceased in his 90s), they unsuccessfully petitioned for rehearing with the Oregon Supreme Court but raised a federal issue in that petition that they then used to ask for a hearing with the US Supreme Court. The gambit succeeded, and DeJonge's case was heard by the Court at the end of 1936. Though Solomon wrote the brief, the case was argued by national ACLU counsel, Osmond Fraenkel. Within a month after the case was heard, the Supreme Court unanimously (with Stone and Harland not participating) invalidated the statute as applied to DeJonge. Peaceful assembly for the discussion of a lawful issue is illegal under the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.
Dr. Stein's illumination of this case's background and Gus Solomon's role in it is a contribution to scholarship both on Solomon's life and of this significant US Supreme Court case.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long