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Jacob Koppel "Jack" Javits (May 18, 1904 – March 7, 1986) was a Jewish-American politician who served as United States Senator from New Yorkmarker from 1957 to 1981. A moderate Republican, he was originally allied with Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, fellow U.S. Senators Irving Ives and Kenneth Keating, and New York Citymarker Mayor John V. Lindsay.

Early life

The son of Morris Javits, a janitor, and Ida Littman, Javits grew up in a teeming Lower East Side tenement, and when not in school he helped his mother hawk dry goods from a pushcart in the street. Javits graduated in 1920 from George Washington High School, where he was president of his class. He worked part-time at various jobs while attending night school at Columbia University, then in 1923 he enrolled in the New York University Law School, from which he earned his J.D. in 1926. He was admitted to the bar in June 1927 and joined his brother Benjamin Javits, who was nearly ten years older, as partner to form the Javits and Javits law firm. The Javits brothers specialized in bankruptcy and minority stockholder suits and became quite successful. In 1933 Javits married Marjorie Joan Ringling; they had no children and divorced in 1936. In 1947 he married Marian Ann Boris, with whom he had three children. Deemed too old for regular military service when World War II began, Javits was commissioned in early 1942 as an officer in the army's Chemical Warfare Department, where he served throughout the war, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Political career

In his youth Javits had watched his father work as a ward heeler for Tammany Hall and experienced firsthand the corruption and graft associated with that notorious political machine. Tammany's operations repulsed Javits so much that, despite his Jewish heritage, he forever rejected the city's Democratic party and in the early 1930s joined the Republican-Fusion party, which was supporting the mayoral campaigns of Fiorello H. La Guardia. After the war he became the chief researcher for Jonah Goldstein's unsuccessful 1945 bid for mayor on the Republican-Liberal-Fusion ticket. Javits's hard work in the Goldstein campaign showed his potential in the political arena and encouraged the small Manhattan Republican party to nominate him as their candidate for the Upper West Side's Twenty-first Congressional District (since redistricted) seat during the heavily Republican year of 1946. Although the Republicans had not held the seat since 1923, Javits campaigned energetically and won. He was a member of the freshman class along with John F. Kennedy of Massachusettsmarker and Richard M. Nixon of Californiamarker. He served from 1947 to 1954, then resigned his seat to take office as New York State Attorney General.

Throughout his career in Congress, in the House and later in the Senate, Javits was part of a small group of liberal Republicans who were often isolated ideologically from their mainstream Republican colleagues. Although he frequently differed with the more conservative members of his party, Javits always maintained that a healthy political party should tolerate diverse opinions among its members. He rejected the idea that either party should reflect only one point of view. Javits liked to think of himself as a political descendant of Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Republicanism. He was strongly committed to social issues, believing that the federal government should have a role in improving the lives of Americans. Yet as a lawyer who had for years represented business clients, Javits also advocated a mixed economy in which business and government would cooperate to further the national welfare.

During his first two terms in the House, Javits often sided with the Harry Truman administration. For example, in 1947 he supported Truman's veto of the Taft-Hartley Bill, which he declared was antiunion. A strong opponent of discrimination, Javits also endorsed anti-poll tax legislation in 1947 and 1949, and in 1954 he unsuccessfully sought to have enacted a bill banning segregation in federally funded housing projects. Unhappy with the witch hunt atmosphere in Washington during the Cold War, he publicly opposed continuing appropriations for the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1948. Always a staunch supporter of Israel as a Jewish homeland, Javits served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee during all four of his terms and supported congressional funding for the Marshall Plan and all components of the Truman Doctrine.

In 1954 ran for New York State Attorney General against a well-known and well-funded opponent, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. Javits's vote-getting abilities carried the day, and he was the only Republican to win a statewide office that year. As attorney general, Javits continued to promote his liberal agenda, supporting such measures as antibias employment legislation and a health insurance program for state employees.

U.S. Senator

In 1956, Javits ran for U.S. Senator from New York to succeed the retiring incumbent Democrat Herbert H. Lehman. His Democratic opponent was the popular Mayor of New York, Robert F. Wagner. In the early stages of that campaign Javits vigorously and successfully denied charges that he had once sought support from members of the American Communist party during his 1946 race for Congress. He went on to defeat Wagner by nearly half a million votes. Although his term began on January 3, 1957, he delayed taking his seat in the U.S. Senate until January 9, the day the New York State Legislature convened, to avoid that Democratic Governor W. Averell Harriman could appoint a Democratic Attorney General. Thus, on January 9, the Republican majority of the State Legislature elected Louis Lefkowitz to fill the office for the remainder of Javits's term.

Upon taking office, Javits resumed his role as the most outspoken Republican liberal in Congress. Like Lehman, Javits was for a time the only Jew in the U.S. Senate. For the next twenty-four years the Senate was Javits's home. His wife had no interest in living in Washington, D.C., a town she considered a boring backwater, so for over two decades Javits commuted between New York and Washington nearly every week to visit his "other" family and conduct local political business. During his first term he supported the limited 1957 Civil Rights Act, which was bitterly opposed by many of his southern colleagues. In foreign affairs he backed the Eisenhower Doctrine for the Middle East and also pressed for more foreign military and economic assistance.

Re-elected in 1962 and 1968, he supported Lyndon Johnson's civil rights measures and generally endorsed the Great Society programs. To promote his views on social legislation, he served on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee for twenty years, most of that time as the second-ranking minority member. Javits initially backed Johnson during the early years of America's involvement in the Vietnam War, supporting, for example, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964. By the end of 1967, however, he was becoming disenchanted with the war's progress and joined twenty-two other senators in calling for a peaceful solution to the conflict. By 1970 his rising opposition to the war led him to support the Cooper-Church Amendment, which barred funds for U.S. troops in Cambodiamarker, and he also voted to repeal the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Increasingly concerned about the erosion of congressional authority in foreign affairs, Javits sponsored the 1973 War Powers Act, which limited to sixty days a president's ability to send American armed forces into combat without congressional approval. Despite his unhappiness with President Richard Nixon over the Vietnam War, Javits was slow to join the anti-Nixon forces during the Watergate scandal of 1973-1974. Until almost the very end of the affair, Javits's position reflected his legal training: Nixon was innocent until proven guilty, and the best way to determine guilt or innocence was by legal due process. Javits's position was not popular among his constituency, and his re-election in 1974 over Ramsey Clark was by fewer than 400,000 votes, a third of his 1968 margin of victory. During his last term Javits shifted his interests more and more to world affairs, especially the crises in the Middle East. Working with President Jimmy Carter, he journeyed to Israel and Egypt to facilitate discussions that led to the 1978 Camp David Agreement.

1980 Senate race

Javits served until 1981; his 1979 diagnosis with amytrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease) led to a 1980 primary challenge by the comparatively lesser-known Long Islandmarker Republican county official Alfonse D'Amato. D'Amato received 323,468 primary votes (55.7 percent) to Javits' 257,433 (44.3 percent). Javits' loss to D'Amato stemmed from Javits' continuing illness and his failure to adjust politically to the rightward movement of the GOP.

Following the primary defeat, Javits ran as the Liberal Party candidate in the general election. His candidacy split the Democratic base vote with United States Representative Elizabeth Holtzman of Brooklynmarker and gave D'Amato a plurality victory. Javits received 11% of the vote.


Throughout his years in Congress, Javits seldom enjoyed favor with his party's inner circle. His liberalism was a vestige of a Republican party of an earlier era, and though he hung tenaciouslyto his liberal precepts, his influence was more subtle than obvious. Few pieces of legislation bear his name, yet he was especially proud of his work in creating the National Endowment for the Arts, of his sponsorship of the Erisa Act, which guaranteed private pensions, and of his leadership in the passage of the 1973 War Powers Act. He was widely regarded by friends and foes as one of the brightest and hardest-working members of the Senate. Though he often labored in vain for his cherished principles, his industrious and ceaseless efforts on behalf of those whom he believed the government was obligated to assist made him a champion for the average American.

Javits was generally considered a moderate Republican, and was supportive of labor unions and movements for civil rights. In an essay published in 1958 in the magazine Esquire, he predicted the election of the first African-American president by the year 2000. In 1964, Javits refused to support his party's presidential nominee, his conservative colleague, Barry M. Goldwater of Arizonamarker.

Senator Javits sponsored (1) the first African-American Senate page in 1965 and (2) the first female page in 1971. His background, coupled with his liberal stands, enabled him to win the votes of many historically Democratic voters. He was highly successful in all elections in which he was a candidate from 1946 to 1974.

Javits played a major role in legislation protecting pensioners, as well as in the passage of the War Powers Act; he led the effort to get the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act passed. He reached the position of Ranking Minority Member on the Committee on Foreign Relations while accruing greater seniority than any New York Senator before or since ( ). He was also one of the main forces behind the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act that removed immigration quotas that favored Western European nations. Along with Dwight D. Eisenhower (another unusual Republican), he was among the first and most important statesmen in passing legislation promoting the cause of education for gifted individuals, and many know his name from the federal Jacob Javits Grants established for this purpose.


Javits died of Lou Gehrig's disease in West Palm Beach, Floridamarker, at the age of eighty-one. In addition to spouse Marian Ann Borris Javits, he was survived by three children, Joshua, Carla, and Joy. He in interred at Linden Hill Jewish Cemetery in Queensmarker, NYmarker.

Among those who attended the funeral were Governor Mario Cuomo, Mayor Ed Koch, former President Richard Nixon, Attorney General Edwin Meese, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Senator D'Amato, John Cardinal O'Connor, former Mayor Lindsay, former Governor Hugh Carey of New York, and former State Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz.

Also there were U.S. Representative Bella Abzug of Manhattanmarker; then Senators Nancy Kassebaum Baker of Kansasmarker, Bill Bradley of New Jerseymarker, Lowell Weicker of Connecticutmarker, and Gary Hart of Coloradomarker; David Rockefeller, the banker; Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times; Victor Gotbaum, the labor leader; Kurt Vonnegut, the writer, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., the actor.


received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.

New York's Javits Centermarker is named in his honor, as is a playground at the southwestern edge of Fort Tryon Parkmarker. The Jacob K.marker Javits Federal Buildingmarker at 26 Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan's Civic Center district, as well as a lecture hall on the campus of the State University of New York at Stony Brookmarker on Long Islandmarker, are also named after him.

The United States Department of Education awards a number of Javits Fellowships to support graduate students in the humanities and social sciences.


  1. "Recess appointments" by the Governor in case of a vacancy in the offices of either the State Comptroller or the State Attorney General are now forbidden. To fill the vacancy, the State Legislature must convene, and elect somebody. See Art. V, § 1 State Constitution
  2. Jacob K. Javits Federal Building, New York City
  3. Jacob K. Javits Fellowships Program, from the U.S. Department of Education website


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