Jacob Koppel Javits

(b. 1904)

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(b. New York City, 18 May 1904; d. West Palm Beach, Florida, 7 Mar. 1986)

US; member of US House of Representatives 1947–54; New York Attorney-General 1954–7, US Senator 1957–80 Born the son a Ukrainian immigrant, Javits was forced in his early years to earn money as a salesman. He studied part-time at Columbia and gained a law degree from New York University. After a period in the military in the Second World War, he won a surprise victory in 1946 to the House of Representatives. In 1954 he became Attorney-General of New York. In 1956 he defeated Mayor Robert Wagner (Jr.) for the New York Senate seat.

Despite his father's close association with Tammany Hall, Javits became associated with Fiorello La Guardia's political club and joined the Republican Party. Throughout his career he was a liberal Republican. His reformist ideals and his Jewish background made Javits an unusual and somewhat isolated figure in Republican ranks. In the Senate, he served on a range of key committees and was a leading supporter of civil rights and a liberal on domestic issues, advocating greater federal involvement in welfare provision and aid for the cities. He helped pass much of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programme, including the creation of the Legal Services Corporation, the Comprehensive Education and Training Act, and funding for the education of the handicapped. He made a major contribution to much labour legislation and to pension law reform.

Javits developed a keen interest in foreign policy and was for long the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. Initially a hawk on military spending and supportive of the war in Vietnam, he became a critic and later helped pass the Cooper-Church amendment (which banned funding for military involvement in Cambodia) and the War Powers Act of 1973 which reasserted congressional control over the war-making power by limiting the President's freedom to deploy troops overseas. He was also a strong supporter of the state of Israel and assisted President Carter in promoting the Middle East peace process of 1977.

For most of his career, Javits enjoyed a strong personal vote in New York. Yet his position on the liberal wing of the Republican Party became extremely vulnerable as the party moved right during the late 1970s. In September 1980 he lost to a more conservative candidate, Alfonse D'Amato, in the Republican Senate primary. Javits then ran on the Liberal Party ticket. Although he lost, his 629,000 votes were the highest ever recorded for the Liberal Party.

His departure from the Senate deprived him of the chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs Committee which would have been his as the Republicans took the Senate in 1980. After retirement he taught at Columbia, acted as a government adviser, and wrote his autobiography: Javits: The Autobiography of a Public Man (published in 1981). The onset of a fatal nervous disease (Lou Gehrig's disease) prompted him to spend time in his last years participating in the ‘living will’ debate.

Subjects: Politics.

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