Robert Houghwout Jackson was born on February 13, 1892 in Pennsylvania. Jackson moved with his family to upstate New York. After graduating high school, Jackson attended Albany Law School for a year. He then returned to Jamestown, New York to clerk in a lawyer's office and read for the bar. He became a member of the bar in New York in 1913. He is the last member of the Supreme Court to pass the bar examination without graduating from law school. Jackson was known as a dedicated, savvy "country lawyer." For the next 20 years Jackson successfully practiced law. In 1928, Franklin D. Roosevelt became Governor of New York. Jackson worked informally with FDR during his two terms as Governor. Jackson stumped for FDR during the latter's presidential bid in 1932, and in early 1934, Jackson left the private practice of law to work in the Roosevelt administration. In 1938, Jackson was appointed Solicitor General. In 1940, FDR appointed Jackson to Attorney General. Slightly more than a year later, Jackson was nominated to the Supreme Court seat vacated by Harlan Fiske Stone when he replaced Charles Evans Hughes as Chief Justice.
Early in his tenure on the Court, Jackson wrote the Court's opinion in Wickard v. Filburn (1942), which laid to rest for over half a century claims made that Congress had violated the commerce clause. For Jackson, the Supreme Court was to exercise its power of judicial review (the power to declare Acts of Congress and state acts unconstitutional) sparingly.
In 1945, President Harry S Truman asked Jackson to serve as the United States' chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Trials following World War II. While Jackson was in Germany, Chief Justice Stone died. Although Jackson believed he had been promised the position of Chief Justice by FDR, Truman eventually nominated Fred Vinson.
Jackson is described as a gifted writer. His most turn of phrase is from West Virginia Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette (1942). He stated: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion."