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Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein Delivers Remarks at the Jackson-Nash Address


Washington, DC
United States

Makan, thank you for that kind introduction.  I am grateful for your dedicated leadership of the Antitrust Division, and I always appreciate the historical references and thoughtful insights in your speeches.

It is fitting that one of my last events as Deputy Attorney General is a conference honoring the memory of Robert Jackson.  As Makan said, we are dedicating one of the Antitrust Division meeting rooms on the third floor of the Main Justice building to Jackson.  That is a significant and deserved honor.  Jackson’s lengthy public career included serving as the Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division. 

But a room dedicated to Jackson would be equally fitting in many other Department components.  The Antitrust Division is one floor below the Deputy Attorney General’s office on the southwest corner of the building, at 10th Street and Constitution Avenue. The Tax Division, where Jackson also served as Assistant Attorney General, is at the southeast corner of the fourth floor.  One floor above the Tax Division sits our Solicitor General, another position held by Jackson.  And the Attorney General’s suite is directly above my office.  President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Jackson as the 57th Attorney General in 1940, and he remained in that position until he became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court the following year

Jackson’s first political appointment was in 1934, as Assistant General Counsel for the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Internal Revenue. The Senate confirmed him a total of five times in just seven years. That record is not likely to be repeated.

Incidentally, Jackson never served as Deputy Attorney General because that position was only created in 1950. The other jobs already existed, which is why they occupy the offices with the best views of the city.

Jackson’s legacy is visible today in several of our leadership offices.  In the Deputy Attorney General’s office, his portrait hangs in the conference room.  Political appointees get to choose portraits for their offices, and I am fortunate that there is only one person in the building who outranks my position. 

I knew that it was time for me to leave when Bill Barr exercised that prerogative, and chose to move Jackson’s portrait to the Attorney General’s office.  But with characteristic grace, the Attorney General allowed the portrait to stay in the Deputy’s office until my departure. 

A relative sent me a photograph of Jackson at his Justice Department desk. That picture also is displayed in my conference room, along with a quotation from Jackson’s timeless speech about the role of the federal prosecutor, delivered from this stage on April 1, 1940.

  Jackson is revered in this building because of his devotion to the rule of law.  In that 1940 speech to United States Attorneys, he observed that federal prosecutors possess “immense power to strike at citizens, not with mere individual strength, but with all the force of government itself.”  For that reason, “sensitiveness to fair play and sportsmanship is perhaps the best protection against the abuse of power, and the citizen’s safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches [the] task with humility.” 

In another 1940 speech, Jackson lauded the fiduciary duty of government lawyers; our obligation to serve as trustees for the public interest.  He contrasted the special duties of government lawyers with what he called “the volatile values of politics.” That remains true to the present day.

Then, as now, there were frequent clashes between the legislative and executive branches. That tension is built into our Constitutional structure.

When facing attacks from legislators in the halls of Congress and pundits on the pages of newspapers, Jackson calmly explained: “We must have the courage to face any temporary criticism,” because “the moral authority of our legal process” depends on government lawyers acting impartially.

Another of my favorite Jackson speeches was delivered in 1942, after he joined the Supreme Court. To illustrate the role of lawyers in preserving liberty, Jackson used a parable about three stonecutters asked to describe their job. 

The first stonecutter focuses on how the job benefits him. He says, “I am earning a living.” The second narrowly describes his personal task: “I am cutting stone.” The third man has a very different perspective. His face lights up as he explains what the work means to others: “I am helping to build a cathedral.”

“[W]hether we are aware of it or not,” Jackson explained, lawyers “do more than earn [a] living[]; we do more than [litigate] [individual] cases. We are building the legal structure that will protect … human liberty” for centuries to come.

Jackson’s image of the cathedral is particularly poignant.  Like Jackson, the dedicated men and women of the Department of Justice do their part to build the cathedral – they protect American citizens, punish and deter crime, and promote the rule of law.  It was a privilege for me to spend much of my career serving alongside them. 

As my time in public service comes to an end, I encourage each of you to remember the cathedral. You are always building a legacy.  You set an example for your colleagues, and you lay a foundation for your successors. 

I appreciate the Antitrust Division for holding this event.  And I want to thank our distinguished speakers:  Chairman Jay Clayton from the Securities and Exchange Commission; St. John’s University Professor John Q. Barrett, who happens to be America’s foremost Jackson scholar; acting Antitrust Division Economics Director Dr. Ron Drennan; and Nobel Laureate Dr. Paul Romer. 

Thank you very much for carrying this tradition forward. 

Our next speaker is Jay Clayton, who recently celebrated his two-year anniversary as Chairman of the SEC.  He works to ensure the impartial enforcement of securities laws and promote the long-term interests of investors.  Under his leadership, the SEC and the Department of Justice work very productively together in service to the American people. 

Please welcome Chairman Clayton.

Updated May 8, 2019