Irving Kaufman

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search

<templatestyles src="Module:Hatnote/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Irving Kaufman
Judge Irving R. Kaufman (1983).jpg
Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
In office
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
In office
Nominated by John F. Kennedy
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
In office
October 21, 1949 – September 22, 1961
Nominated by Harry S. Truman
Personal details
Born June 24, 1910 (1910-06-24)
Brooklyn, New York
Died February 1, 1992 (1992-03) (aged 81)
Profession Jurist
Religion Judaism

Irving Robert Kaufman (June 24, 1910 – February 1, 1992) was a federal judge in the United States. He is best remembered for imposing the controversial death sentences on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.


Born in Brooklyn, New York, Kaufman graduated from Fordham Law School at the age of 21. He was Jewish, but earned the nickname "Pope Kaufman" for his achievement in the required Christian doctrine classes at Fordham (a likely apocryphal story since the law school didn't teach Christian doctrine), a Catholic school.[1] Kaufman worked for two decades as a lawyer in New York City, mostly in private practice but also as an Assistant United States Attorney. From 1949 to 1961, Kaufman served as a judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, to which he was appointed by President Harry S Truman. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy promoted Kaufman to an appellate position on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He served as an active Second Circuit judge from 1961 to 1987, including a term as Chief Judge from 1973 to 1980. Kaufman assumed senior status in 1987 but continued to hear some cases until his death four years later. On October 7, 1987, he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan.[2] He died on February 1, 1992 at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan of pancreatic cancer. He was 81 years old.[3]


  • Kaufman is best remembered as the judge who presided over the espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and imposed their controversial death sentences. Roy Cohn, one of the prosecutors in the case, claimed in his autobiography that his influence led to Kaufman's being appointed to the case, and that Kaufman had imposed the death penalty on Cohn's personal advice. This claim has not been verified, although it has been shown that after Kaufman learned that the FBI and Justice Department opposed death penalties in the case, he asked the prosecution to withhold its recommendation before issuing his death sentence.

In his summing up Judge Irving Kaufman was considered by many to have been highly subjective: "Judge Kaufman tied the crimes the Rosenbergs were being accused of to their ideas and the fact that they were sympathetic to the Soviet Union. He stated that they had given the atomic bomb to the Russians, which had triggered Communist aggression in Korea resulting in over 50,000 American casualties. He added that, because of their treason, the Soviet Union was threatening America with an atomic attack and this made it necessary for the United States to spend enormous amounts of money to build underground bomb shelters." [4]

Kaufman said that he had gone to synagogue to pray before issuing his death sentence; this enraged Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter, who later wrote to judge Learned Hand, "I despise a judge who feels God told him to impose a death sentence," and also told Hand that he was "mean enough" to stay on the court long enough to prevent Kaufman from having a chance to take Frankfurter's place in the so-called "Jewish seat" on the Court.[3][5]

  • Kaufman presided over the jury trial in the federal government's conspiracy case against twenty-one of the Apalachin meeting delegates. The guilty verdicts of twenty of the men, and the stiff sentences Kaufman meted out, were later reversed and invalidated by the Court of Appeals.
  • Kaufman presided over the three-judge appeals court panel reviewing the deportation of John Lennon and rejected the government's attempt to deport him from the United States to the United Kingdom based upon his having pleaded guilty in England to possession of hashish. After a widely publicized argument, Kaufman found that Lennon had been singled out for deportation for political reasons, allowed him to remain in the United States on what some observers characterized as a technicality, and criticized what he called the "labyrinthine provisions of the Immigration and Naturalization Act."
  • Judge Kaufman also wrote an opinion in the case of Filártiga v. Peña-Irala, 630 F.2d 876 (2d Cir. 1980). The case opened U.S. courts to foreigners who were tortured in other countries. The case has had a wide-ranging impact on human rights and the role of corporations and their foreign operations.
  • Judge Kaufman wrote an opinion in the case of United States v. Freeman 357 F.2d 606 (2d Cir. 1966). The judgment over-turned the rigid M'Naghten standard for insanity defense and adopted the modern insanity defense described in Section 4.01 of Model Penal Code developed by the American Law Institute. The judgment embraced advances in psychiatry and emphatically rejected the M'Naghten test by stating that, "the outrage of a frightened Queen has for far too long caused us to forego the expert guidance that modern psychiatry is able to provide."
  • Kaufman was the chief judge in the decision (Coniglio v. Highwood Services, 1974) that prevents Professional Football fans from gaining redress against the NFL's policy requiring them to purchase seats for exhibition games at regular-season prices in order to qualify for season tickets.[6]


A substantial collection of Kaufman's personal and judicial papers is archived at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., but is not yet fully open for research.

Kaufman had been known to lament what he regarded as the distortion of judicial opinion and finding, as it passed through the filter of the media: "The judge is forced for the most part to reach his audience through the medium of the press whose reporting of judicial decisions is all too often inaccurate and superficial."[7]


  1. "Irving Robert Kaufman", The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives (Gale Group, 2001)  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required).
  2. Remarks on Presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Irving R. Kaufman - October 7, 1987
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  5. George Anastoplo, On Trial: From Adam & Eve to O.J. Simpson (Lexington Books, 2004), ISBN 978-0739107805. pp. 369-370. Excerpts available at Google Books.
  6. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  7. [1]

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
new seat
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Succeeded by
John Matthew Cannella
Preceded by
new seat
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Succeeded by
John M. Walker, Jr.