Jacob Javits

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Jacob Koppel "Jack" Javits​

In office
January 3, 1957 – January 3, 1981​
Succeeded by Al D'Amato
Preceded by Herbert H. Lehman​

Attorney General of New York State​
In office
January 1, 1955​ – January 9, 1957​
Governor William Averell Harriman​
Preceded by Nathaniel L. Goldstein​
Succeeded by Louis Lefkowitz

United States Representative
for New York's 21st congressional district (Upper West Side but since redistricted)
In office
January 3, 1947​ – December 31, 1954​
Preceded by James H. Torrens​
Succeeded by Herbert Zelenko​

Born May 18, 1904​
New York City
Died March 7, 1986 (aged 81)​
West Palm Beach, Florida.​
Resting place Linden Hills Jewish Cemetery in the Queens borough​ of New York City
Political party Republican​-turned Liberal Party (1980)
Spouse(s) Marjorie Joan Ringling (married 1933-1936, divorced)

Marian Ann Borris Javits (married 1947-1986, his death)

Children From second marriage:

Joshua Javits
Joy Javits Romero
Carla Javits
Morris and Ida Littman Javits

Alma mater George Washington High School (New York City)

Columbia University
New York University School of Law

Occupation Attorney

Lieutenant colonel in the United States Army
in World War II

Jacob Koppel Javits, also known as Jack Javits (May 18, 1904 – March 7, 1986), was a Jewish-American attorney and liberal politician who represented New York State as a Republican in both houses of the United States Congress. ​ ​


Javits was born to Morris Javits (1862-1919), a native of the Ukraine and a former Talmudic scholar. Morris earned his living as a janitor and worked as well for the New York Democratic Tammany Hall political machine. His mother, of whom little information is available was the former Ida Littman, a native of Palestine. Javits was reared in a tenement house on the Lower East Side of New York City. As a boy he helped his mother sell dry goods. He graduated as the senior class president of George Washington High School. While attending Columbia University, he worked part-time at various jobs. In 1923, at the age of nineteen, he enrolled in the New York University Law School, from which he earned his Juris Doctorate three years later in 1926. He and his brother, Benjamin Abraham "Jawetz" Javits (1894-1973), formed the Javits & Javits law firm, which handled bankruptcy cases and stock disputes. In 1933, Javits married Marjorie Joan Ringling (1911-1973), a Roman Catholic and the daughter of circus owner Alfred T. Ringling. The couple divorced after three years of marriage.[1]

Considered too old for regular military service when World War II began, Javits was commissioned in early 1942, at the age of thirty-eight, as an officer in the United States Army's Chemical Warfare Department. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel.[2]

In 1947, he wed Marian Ann Borris (1925-2017), a former actress born in Detroit, Michigan, with whom he had three children. She was a strong patron of public arts and influenced the establishment of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson gave her the signing pen used in the enactment of the endowments.[3]


Because of continued corruption in Tammany Hall, Javits though a liberal joined the Republican-Fusion Party and supported colorful New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, namesake of one of the city's airports. His liberalism tended to isolate him from his Republican colleagues. One scoring method found Javits to be the most liberal Republican to serve in either chamber of Congress between 1937 and 2002.[4]

In 1946, as part of the Republican wave that led to a GOP Congress for two years, Javits was elected to the United States House of Representatives for the New York 21st congressional district, then based in the Upper West Side but since redistricted. He left the House on January 3, 1955, to become the attorney general of New York, a post he filled for only two years. In the attorney general's contest, he defeated the Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. (1914-1988), son of the former president. Representative Javits supported Democratic President Harry S. Truman in Cold War foreign policy and later voted for the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after the war. He was elected in 1956 to the U.S. Senate, having defeated Democrat Robert Ferdinand Wagner, Jr. (1910-1991), who was in his second year as the mayor of New York City and then an ally of Tammany Hall. Javits won re-election to the Senate in 1962, 1968, and 1974, when he defeated a candidate even more liberal than he, former U.S. Attorney General William Ramsey Clark (born 1927) despite losing many Republican votes to a determined Conservative Party nominee, Barbara A. Keating, an opponent of abortion.[2]

In the House and Senate, Javits established himself as a liberal Republican and supporter of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, fellow Senator Kenneth Barnard Keating (1900-1975), and Mayor John V. Lindsay. He opposed the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which had broad conservative support -- enough to override Truman's veto of the measure. He also backed much of later President Johnson's Great Society and was always a steadfast supporter of civil rights legislation passed in 1957, 1960, and 1964. He backed the constitutional amendment to ban the use of poll taxes and in 1954 unsuccessfully sought to enact a bill banning segregation in federally funded housing projects.

In light of the skepticism held by many conservatives against him, Javits argued that a healthy political party had to tolerate diversity. Javits considered himself as a political descendant of Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Republicanism. Though as a lawyer he represented business clients, he strongly supported liberal social issues, which he thought would benefit the poor and downtrodden.​[2]

Javits opposed the establishment of the former House Un-American Activities Committee, which investigated communist subversion. A staunch supporter of Israel, Javits served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In the attorney general's race, he successfully rebuffed charges that he had sought support from members of the Communist Party in the his 1946 race for Congress.[5] Senator Javits was undoubtedly the most outspoken Republican liberal in Congress.[6] Javits spent most weekdays in Washington, D.C., while his wife remained in their Manhattan apartment to pursue her interest in the arts. He hence commuted for twenty-four years to see her.[3]

In foreign affairs, he backed the Eisenhower Doctrine in the Middle East and pressed for more foreign military and economic assistance. He voted in 1964 for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution but later became critical of President Johnson's handling of the Vietnam War.[7]

By the end of 1967, Javits joined those ideologically opposed to the Vietnam War and called for a peaceful solution to the conflict.​ He backed the Cooper-Church Amendment, named foer the Moderate Republican Senator John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky. The measure barred funds for American forces in Cambodia, and he also voted to repeal the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that he had earlier supported. He sponsored the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which sought to reinforce congressional jurisdiction over foreign policy. The resolution, which President Richard M. Nixon vetoed proposed to limit to sixty days the ability of a president to send American armed forces into combat without congressional approval.[8]

Javits lost the 1980 Republican Senate primary, 56 to 44 percent, to Al D'Amato, a local official from Long Island, who campaigned to Javits' right. Javits still ran as the nominee of the New York Liberal Party but polled only 11 -percent of the vote in the general election in which D'Amato narrowly defeated the Democratic nominee, U.S. Representative Elizabeth Holtzman.[2]

Death and legacy

Javits died at the age of eighty-one of a heart attack while he was vacationing with his wife in West Palm Beach, Florida. He also had the deadly Lou Gehrig's disease but was still in robust his mental health.[2]

U.S. Senator John Tower, a conservative-turned-Moderate Republican from Texas, said that Javits "always subordinated political expediency to do instead what he thought was best for the greatest number of people."[1]

President Reagan, whom Javits supported in both 1980 and 1984, and who awarded him the Medal of Freedom in 1983, described Javits as a man of "remarkable courage … Throughout his many years in the Senate, Jacob Javits was known for his intellect, for his integrity, for his dedication to the people of New York and the nation, and for the sheer joy he took in his work. He remained to the end a man in love with life."[1]

A playground near Mother Cabrini High School is named for Javits. The Javits Center on West 34th Street was opened in 1984 to host conventions. Named in his honor, the center was converted for use in the treatment in 2020 of those infected with the coronavirus. In 1981, a few months after his Senate service ended, Javits published Javits: The Autobiography of a Public Man.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Richard Pearson (March 8, 1986). Former Senator Jacob Javits is Dead at 81. Washington Post. Retrieved on May 24, 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 James F. Clarity (March 8, 1986​). [​https://www.nytimes.com/1986/03/08/obituaries/jacob-javits-dies-in-florida-at-81-4-term-senator-from-new-york.html Jacob Javits Dies in Florida at 81: 4-Term Senator from New York​]. The New York Times. Retrieved on May 24, 2020.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Thomas Tracy and Rich Shapiro (March 1, 2017). Marian Javits, longtime champion of public arts, dies at 92. The New York Daily News. Retrieved on May 24, 2020.
  4. Keith T. Poole (May 26, 2017). Is John Kerry a Liberal?. voteview.com. Retrieved on May 25, 2020.
  5. J. Lee Annis, Big Jim Eastland: The Godfather of Mississippi, Google Books, 2016.
  6. "Yes, Virginia, There are Liberal Republican," The Huffington Post,May 12, 2009.
  7. Michael S. Mayer, The Eisenhower Yearsm Google Books, 2009, p. 351
  8. War Powers - Law Library of Congress.