Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Joseph L. Rauh, Jr.

U.S. Army officer on Gen. Douglas MacArthur's staff, 1942-45; officer of the Americans for Democratic Action

Washington D.C.
June 21, 1989
Niel M. Johnson

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened January, 1992
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

Oral History Interview with
Joseph L. Rauh, JR.

Washington D.C.
June 21, 1989
Niel M. Johnson


JOHNSON: Mr. Rauh, I'm going to start by asking you to tell us where you were born, when you were born and what your parents' names were.

RAUH: I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on January 3, 1911, making me 78 now. My father's name was Joseph Rauh; I'm a junior. My father was born in Bamberg, Bavaria, Germany; he was an immigrant. My mother's name was Sarah Weiler. She was born in this country, but her ancestors came from Germany. We were German Jews; Cincinnati was quite a home for German Jews and still is.

JOHNSON: That's where you got your education?

RAUH: Yes. Actually my father was an education nut. He was a small businessman, but he anted to make enough money to give his kids the best education. Of course,


in those days, and maybe it's still true, the prestige lay with Harvard, and the happiest thing in my father's life was that he had enough money to send both my brother and me to Harvard. So we got the best education possible.

JOHNSON: You had one brother. Did you have any sisters?

RAUH: Yes. My brother's dead. My sister is alive; she is 87 years old. She's a pediatrician. She doesn't practice anymore, but she was a very wonderful, successful pediatrician in Cincinnati, setting up her office in the poor districts. She was a liberal, a Truman liberal, all the time.

JOHNSON: So there were three children.

RAUH: Three children.

JOHNSON: And you're what, the oldest, youngest?

RAUH: I'm the youngest of the three.

JOHNSON: What was your brother's name?

RAUH: Carl. He went into my father's business, but the business folded. It was a shirt business and you couldn't make apparel in the north after a while because of the southern competition in wages. So my brother sold out. He got out of the business rather


young, and he died rather young. He was just 67 when he died.

JOHNSON: Your father's occupation then was . . .

RAUH: A small shirt manufacturer. He was a died-in-the-wool Republican who marched in the 1896 gold parade of McKinley in Cincinnati. He was a died-in-the-wool, conservative Republican, and all three children were Democrats.

JOHNSON: Did he mellow as he got older?

RAUH: Well, the joke in our house always was, and my mother would tell the joke; he would denounce Roosevelt, and then say to my mother, "Sarah, go upstairs and get that clipping about Joseph and the New Deal." I mean he was proud of his kids even if he disagreed with them. We had a happy family.

JOHNSON: What was your major in college?

RAUH: Economics, although I don't know a damn thing about it. I don't know why I did that. When I went into college it was before the Depression; I matriculated in 1928, September of '28. October of '29 is Black Monday, and that's when people started worrying and that's when I went into law. So I went into law school rather than anything else. There was no room in this


little [family] business for anybody else, so my father said, "Why don't you go to law school?" I was sort of treading water, going to law school.

JOHNSON: Are you saying now that your father was probably the most important influence on you in these years?

RAUH: Up to the time I went to college, there's no question, he was the most important influence. College and law school changed all that.

JOHNSON: Okay, what influences did you come under there?

RAUH: Well, the most important influence, of course, was Felix Frankfurter. I am what they called back in the thirties one of the Frankfurter "happy hot dogs." I don't think there were terribly many influences that I had in college. I did fairly well; I was not a bad student. But going to law school, the chief influence was Felix Frankfurter and that's how I came here to Washington.

One day in my third year in law school, he stopped me and said, "What are you going to do next year?" I said, "Well, I've been hired by the best Jewish law firm in Cincinnati." And he said, "Well, you're not going there." I said, "What do you mean, sir?" He said, "Well, you're going to Washington. You'd just be silly not to." And he got me a job; he got me the law


clerkship to Justice [Benjamin] Cardozo, and the law clerkship of himself when he took Cardozo's spot three years later. So, yes, that was the greatest influence in my career.

JOHNSON: And Frankfurter was a reformist.

RAUH: He was a reformist. Hugh Johnson, the head of NRA [National Recovery Administration] hated Frankfurter, but he said--and this wasn't necessarily right--"He is the single most important person in Washington after the President." There's some truth in that. I mean that's obviously an overstatement, but it wasn't so ridiculously an overstatement. He was a tremendous figure down here. Well, there weren't many people that were closer to Roosevelt than Frankfurter.

So, my father's belief in the prestige of Harvard and my going to Harvard Law School affected my life. I mean it changed it completely. I always say if it wasn't for Felix Frankfurter, I'd be an overstuffed corporate lawyer like most everybody else.

JOHNSON: So you came into Washington and became a law clerk . . .

RAUH: To Justice Benjamin Cardozo. There are some pictures there, and there [pointing to the wall]. Then when Cardozo died, Frankfurter got the job. I actually


volunteered for law clerk because it was in the middle of the year that he was appointed to Cardozo's seat, and it's hard to get a law clerk right in the middle of the year, so I just volunteered. Of course, Frankfurter took up the volunteer offer, because he knew me. Also he said, "You've got more experience on the Supreme Court than I do," because I'd been there for two years with Cardozo. So I went back for a few months with Frankfurter, and then I went back into the Government.

JOHNSON: In what year did you start with Cardozo?

RAUH: I came here in '35 and I would have been Cardozo's law clerk that year, starting in the fall of '35, but Cardozo decided for the first time to keep his then-law clerk, a fellow named Alan Stroock. His father was a big Jewish lawyer in New York. Since Alan was staying an extra year, Felix told me, "You go work for Ben Cohen and Tom Corcoran for the year while you're waiting to be the law clerk to Justice Cardozo." So I worked for Ben Cohen and Tom Corcoran; it's described a little bit in Joe Lash's book on Dealers and Dreamers. I worked there for a year. Then in '36 I went to work for Justice Cardozo, and I was there until '38. Then there were a few months, after Cardozo died, when there were no appointees. Roosevelt then appointed


Frankfurter in December of '38, and he took the seat in January of '39. I was his law clerk for a few months, and then I went back to the New Deal and was there until the war.

JOHNSON: Were you involved in drafting any of the arguments, as in 1937, to defend the New Deal legislation?

RAUH: No. I was working for Cardozo, for example, when he had the Social Security decision to write; that was in 1937, but I was working for the Court, not for the outside. Cardozo wrote the decision upholding Social Security. There was a big attack on Social Security. There was an attack on everything the New Deal was doing, but after the Court packing plan, why the Court made quite a shift.

JOHNSON: Of course, one of those conservative justices retired at a propitious time.

RAUH: Yes, that was in May of 1937.

JOHNSON: Yes, I think they talk about '37 as the time of revolution in the Supreme Court.

RAUH: That's right.

JOHNSON: And Cohen was one of the drafters of the Social Security Act, was he not?


RAUH: Cohen had been drafter of a lot of the legislation: the Securities Act, the Securities and Exchange Act, the Holding Company Act, the Minimum Wage Act, he drafted all those, and he helped with some of the others, including Social Security. But as far as the Court packing plan was concerned, he and Tommy Corcoran were not consulted on the Court packing plan until it went up to Congress. Then they were consulted and they changed the whole strategy, those two. What happened was that Roosevelt had this ridiculous strategy that Homer Cummings the Attorney General had worked out, saying, "The Court's too old, and they can't do their work. We're going to appoint one new judge for every judge on the bench over 70 who doesn't resign."

That was ridiculous because there wasn't anything wrong with these guys' brains, what was wrong was their goddamn views. They were knocking statutes out right and left. Cohen really was the architect of this, but he and Corcoran always worked together. They said, and they persuaded the President, that the age of the Justices was not the way to get the packing plan adopted. What you had to do is just say, "We need minimum wages now. The only way to get them is this way. We need a maximum hours law now. We've got to stop child labor now. We've got to have a labor relations act now." So the emphasis was on the word


"now." If you wanted to have these things that people wanted, you had to change the Court. The Court changed and then, of course, interestingly enough, the Court not only changed but then Roosevelt's plan got defeated. I think that was divine intervention; this was the perfect outcome. The New Deal was saved by the Court changing its views,, but there's no precedent for the future of packing the Court by increasing the numbers. You may say that Reagan packed the Court, but he packed it by the people he put on; he didn't add people. So, I think the result in 1937 was perfect. The New Deal was saved, and Roosevelt's Court packing bill was defeated. See my article in the November, 1990, North Carolina Law Review.

JOHNSON: So, it didn't set a bad precedent.

RAUH: That's right.

JOHNSON: You know, I think that Truman was critical of that Court packing bill. He was about 98 percent in line with New Deal legislation, but I think he was a critic of that approach too.

RAUH: Burton Wheeler was the leader of the negative approach. I don't know what Truman's relations with Wheeler were.

JOHNSON: Well, he felt favorable towards Wheeler because


Wheeler really helped him take a role in the transportation field, you know. Truman's the one that helped rewrite the rules on railroads and made that famous statement about Jesse James being a "piker" in holding up railroads, in comparison with holding companies that were "looting" them.

RAUH: Yes.

JOHNSON: So you were a clerk on the Supreme Court to these people; and you were very well acquainted with New Deal legislation as a result. Then you take up private practice?

RAUH: At the end of '45, the beginning of '46, I did.

JOHNSON: Not until after the war?

RAUH: Not until after the war did I go into private practice.

JOHNSON: Were you with Frankfurter then when the war came?

RAUH: No, I was at the Lend-Lease Administration and the Office for Emergency Management. Of all the times in the New Deal, that was the most exciting period. You have to realize that there was a lot of anti-Semitism in those days--Pelley's Silver Shirts, and Father Coughlin's Social Justice movement, and all of that. Anti-Semitism resulted in part because many thought the


Jews were trying to get us into the war. I plead guilty. I felt that Hitler was going to try to conquer the world, and the sooner we prepared for war and got into it, the safer this country would be.

So in 1941 I worked in two agencies. I was the Deputy General Counsel of the Lend-Lease Administration under a wonderful man named Oscar Cox, whose papers are at Yale. Then I also was the Deputy General Counsel of the Office for Emergency Management, of which Cox was also the General Counsel. Wayne Coy was the head of that agency. He was assistant to