Arthur Joseph Goldberg, the youngest of eight children, was born in Chicago to Russian immigrant parents in 1898. He became interested in legal matters at an early age, and received his bachelor's and juris doctor degrees from Northwestern University.
Goldberg began his legal career in 1929 as an associate at a large Chicago firm, but he opened his own practice in 1933, wanting to advocate for working Americans. In 1938, on behalf of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), Goldberg represented Chicago newspaper employees who were striking for higher wages and better working conditions. For eight months, Goldberg represented the strikers without charge. In the end, the newspapers recognized the union.
During World War II, Goldberg served as a captain and major in the U.S. Army. He also served in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA. As chief of the OSS's Labor Desk, he established contacts with underground labor organizations in Europe.
After the war, Goldberg became a prominent labor lawyer, serving as general counsel for the CIO and the United Steelworkers of America. In 1955, he advised the merger of the American Federation of Labor and the CIO into the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest union.
President John F. Kennedy appointed Goldberg first as secretary of labor (1961-1962) and then as associate justice of the Supreme Court. Although his time on the Court was brief (October 1, 1962 to July 25, 1965), he issued influential opinions on the death penalty and the right of privacy. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson persuaded Goldberg to resign in order to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a position that he held until 1968. During the later years of his career, he practiced law in New York and Washington, D.C., ran unsuccessfully for governor of New York in 1970 and served as U.S. ambassador to the Belgrade Conference on Human Rights in 1977.