Jacob Koppel Javits served longer in the U.S. Senate than any other New York congressman. His rich and varied career in the House of Representatives and the Senate spanned the administrations of seven presidents. His public service also encompassed the New York City administration of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and World War II. The breadth and scope of his public policy interests were unique.
Born in a tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan on May 18, 1904, Javits was the son of immigrant parents. Educated in New York City's public schools, he attended night classes at Columbia University, was graduated from New York University Law School in 1926, and was admitted to the Bar in 1927.
Javits rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Chemical Warfare Service of the U.S. Army during World War II and completed tours of duty in Europe, the Pacific, and in the United States. He was discharged with the Medal of Merit and Army Commendation Ribbon in June, 1945. In 1947, he married Marian Ann Borris. They had three children: Joy (b.1948), Joshua (b.1950), and Carla (b.1955).
Jacob K. Javits' political career began in 1932 when he joined the Ivy Republican Club in Manhattan's 18th Congressional District. In 1937 and 1941, he was active in the reform movement of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. In 1946, in his initial bid for elective office, he became the first Republican since 1923 to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in New York's traditionally Democratic 21st District. He was reelected to that seat in the House three times. During those years, Representative Javits served on the Foreign Affairs Committee and was Chairman of the Subcommittee on Foreign Economic Policy. He was also a United States delegate to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Employment in 1947. He participated in the EuropeanNear East Study Missions of 1947, 1949, and 1951.
In 1954, after eight years as a member of the House, he ran for Attorney General of New York State. Javits defeated Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., by a plurality of 172,899 votes, the only Republican elected to statewide office that year.
In 1956, Javits won election to the United States Senate, defeating New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr., by a plurality of 458,774 votes and carrying all but four of New York State's sixty-two counties. He was reelected to the Senate when he defeated James B. Donovan by a plurality of 983,094 votes, which made Javits the biggest winner in the nation in the 1962 elections. He defeated Paul O'Dwyer by a margin of over one million votes in 1968 and was reelected to a fourth term by defeating Ramsey Clark in 1974. He was defeated in his attempt to run for a fifth term in 1980, at the age of seventy-six.
Javits' seniority on Senate committees is unmatched by any New York senator in modern times. He became a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1969, later attaining the position of ranking Republican member. He also served as ranking member of the Labor and Human Resources Committee and on the Joint Economic Committee. In addition, he served on the Committee on Governmental Affairs longer than any other Republican.
Beginning in 1957, Javits was a leading participant in the North Atlantic Assembly--initially called the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Parliamentarians Conference--serving as chairman of its economic and political committees. He served as Chairman of the Committee of Nine, appointed by the Assembly in 1971 to study and make recommendations on the future of the Atlantic Alliance. In 1970, he was appointed to the U.S. delegation to the twenty-fifth anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly.
Javits was a leader in efforts to realign the major currencies of the world and to develop liberal trade policies. In June 1978, he was appointed by President Carter to the newly created National Commission for the Review of U.S. AntiTrust Laws and Procedures, after having championed legislation to review these outdated laws for sixteen years.
Jacob K. Javits was the principal author of the Pension Reform Act of 1974, which safeguards the retirement pensions of more than fifty million Americans. President Ford's signing of the bill on Labor Day, 1974, was the culmination of eight years of work for the Senator, who introduced the first pension bill in 1966. Major amendments to this act--known as ERISA (Employment Retirement Income Security Act)--were introduced in May 1978 to streamline bureaucratic procedures and encourage the growth of private pension plans.
He was the principal architect of the Public Service Jobs Program, a plan that has provided thousands of jobs in areas of high unemployment. Javits was a principal co-sponsor and floor manager of the Age Discrimination in Employment Amendment, signed into law in April 1978. This law raised the mandatory retirement age from sixty-five to seventy for the private sector and for state government employees, and removed the upper cap for most civilian federal employees.
Javits was a leader in the fight against segregation and discriminatory practices beginning with his first year in the Senate, when he campaigned for the passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act. He played a major role in the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and in civil rights legislation that followed. He also took a prominent part in the passage of the Selective Immigration Act, which established a new immigration policy based on skill and usefulness rather than on quotas by national origin.
He introduced the earliest legislation to provide comprehensive day care and was coauthor of many subsequent childcare bills. He also played a major role in the drive for bilingual education. A staunch advocate of federal aid to education and school construction, Javits also authored programs for foreign student exchange. He was largely responsible for the incorporation of the federal student loan program in the National Defense Education Act of 1957.
Javits served as a member of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse and authored legislation defining the federal role in the treatment and cure of drug addiction.
During the 1970s, one of Javits' major concerns was the question of who has the power to make war. He was the first member of Congress to propose legislation reestablishing congressional (rather than presidential) responsibility to commit U.S. armed forces abroad in the absence of a formal declaration of war. This War Powers Resolution passed the Senate in April 1972 and again in July 1973. It became law over President Nixon's veto on November 7, 1973.
In 1979, at the age of seventy-five, he was informed that he had contracted amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. In spite of this debilitating illness, Javits continued to lead an active life. He was quoted in the New York Times, June 26, 1982, as saying: "I can go anywhere where there's a plug in the wall. Life doesn't deny me much."
After leaving the Senate, Javits visited and corresponded with many of his former political colleagues and maintained his interest in foreign affairs. In 1981, he served as special advisor on foreign policy issues to Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Jacob K. Javits also testified before government committees, including the Senate Subcommittee on Appropriations for the National Institutes of Health. He was a member of the American Jewish Commission on the Holocaust, the American Commission on East-West Accord, and the Japan-United States Friendship Commission. Javits wrote numerous articles on international matters in publications such as the New York Times, Newsday, and Foreign Affairs.
Jacob K. Javits was a trustee of many associations and organizations concerned with community and health issues. These included the American Organization of Rehabilitation Through Training, the Bellevue Association, and the National Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Foundation. He wrote, lectured, and became an activist for the elderly and the disabled. Javits was an advocate of the concepts of the living will and the dignity of the dying.
Jacob K. Javits died of complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in Palm Beach, Florida, on March 7, 1986, and was buried at Linden Hill Cemetery, Queens, New York.
Jacob K. Javits received the Medal of Freedom, the Charles Evans Hughes Gold Medal Award, and the Congressional Distinguished Service Award of the American Political Science Association. More than thirty-five U.S. colleges and universities conferred honorary degrees on him. He held the title of Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he conducted lectures and seminars. Jacob K. Javits authored Javits: The Autobiography of a Public Man with Rafael Steinberg (1981). He also wrote Who Makes War: The President versus Congress with Donald Kellermann (1973); Order of Battle; A Republican's Call to Reason (1964); and Discrimination U.S.A. (1960).
Awards established and named in honor of Jacob K. Javits include the following: Jacob Javits Distinguished Service Award (New York Telephone Company); Jacob Javits Public Service Award (New Yorkers for New York); Jacob K. Javits Fellowship (Philadelphia Friends of the ALS Foundation); Jacob K. Javits Leadership Award (B'nai B'rith International); Jacob K. Javits Legislative Award (National Industries for the Severely Handicapped); Jacob K. Javits Public Service Award (American Psychiatric Association); Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award (National Institutes of Health); Javits Scholarship (Educational & Cultural Trust Fund of the Electrical Industry). Jacob K. Javits Legislative Award (National Industries for the Severely Handicapped); Jacob K. Javits Public Service Award (American Psychiatric Association); Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award (National Institutes of Health); Javits Scholarship (Educational & Cultural Trust Fund of the Electrical Industry).