Irwin Goldbloom: From Humble Beginnings to the Heights of the Law
by Elizabeth Sarah Gere
Based on the Oral History of Irwin Goldbloom for the D.C. Historical Society
Irwin Goldbloom was born and raised in Syracuse, New York, where he attended public schools, Syracuse University, and Syracuse University Law School. The first in his family to attend college, Irwin found adventure and self-discipline when he was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army in Korea while still an undergraduate. After his service he returned home to finish college. With new-found confidence and dedication and the GI bill, Irwin completed his law school education and graduated number two in his class. An offer to join the Department of Justice Honors Program in 1958 led him to Washington, D.C. with his young family to continue to expand his horizons. Thus began an extraordinary legal career in government service for two decades followed by almost two more decades in private practice.
In his oral history, Irwin describes the many and varied cases he litigated while in the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. These cases ranged from matters making front page news to those producing enduring legal principles still relied on by courts decades later. The subject matters included national security, Executive Privilege, administrative law, FOIA, copyright, and defense of a myriad of government programs and officials.
Irwin recounts the excitement and energy of working for Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who transformed the Department of Justice into a more active national legal advocate, not simply a service agency for the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices. Irwin testified many times before Congress on pressing legal policy issues and was even a witness called to testify before the Watergate grand jury because of his work on one of his civil cases. He also reviews his experiences with numerous administrations and Attorneys General as they changed over the years.
Despite the political changes, Irwin rose to Assistant Deputy Attorney General and was relied on for his expertise and institutional knowledge by administrations of both parties. Because he was first and foremost a litigator, Irwin tried cases in courts across the country and argued before the Supreme Court of the United States. He has vivid recollections of the judges of our courts, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, and the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit before whom he appeared. Among the outstanding judges described in his oral history are District Judges Hogan, Smith, Jones, Corcoran, and Gasch, as well as appellate judges Leventhal, Wright, Robinson, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Irwin initially planned to work for only a few years in Washington, then to return to practice law in Syracuse. But, after his early experiences at the Justice Department, he was committed to the excitement and challenges Washington offered him and his family. There would be no return to Syracuse. After two decades at Justice, however, there would be a change in his career path.
While at Justice, Irwin had served as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General to Carla Hills, then Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division. Hills went on to become Secretary of HUD, and later to return to private practice at Latham & Watkins, a major West Coast law firm. In 1978, she asked Irwin to help her open the Washington office of the firm. Although still committed to his public service, Irwin was realistic about the cost of educating his five children. He was practical but the decision to leave federal service was about more than money. Here was another world—private practice—he had not yet experienced. Now he could try it with a lawyer whom he admired and with whom he had worked in the past. So, he agreed. With his contributions, Latham & Watkins grew quickly in Washington to become a major presence in the local legal community. Irwin chaired the firm’s litigation department and was sought after by a variety of clients for his representation in major civil cases. His litigation successes too continued until his retirement from the firm in 1994.
Irwin was legendary in the Department of Justice and in his law firm. He mentored and taught generations of lawyers about the honor of their work and the responsibilities that accompanied it. Irwin’s oral history shows how his own early life experiences, education and military service produced a true leader in the profession, a lawyer’s lawyer. He closes his oral history by reflecting on the rewards of practicing law whether in a “bet the company” case or in a “slip and fall” case. As Irwin noted, the law matters to people in cases large and small, and to the lawyers who represent their clients zealously. The legal profession has benefitted from his long and distinguished service.