Gus Jerome Solomon

The Gus J. Solomon Inn of Court carries on the traditions of a diligent, able, energetic and colorful lawyer and judge. We recall the longest serving federal judge in Oregon history and namesake  of the Gus J. Solomon U.S. Courthouse in Portland, Oregon. We value  that Judge Solomon  was dedicated to social justice and to a vision of a bar devoted above all to serving the common good. We, too, want attorneys to make a difference, not just careers. In pursuing Judge Solomon’s ideals, we advance democratic and egalitarian principles and actively foster a membership diverse in race, ethnicity, sexual preference, and income. 

Judge Gus Jerome Solomon was appointed by President Harry Truman to the U.S. District of Oregon court in 1950, and served as Chief Judge from 1958 to 1971.  He continued to hear cases as a senior judge until his death in 1987.   Philosophically, Solomon opposed narrow conservatism in Oregon and the bar and any denials of civil liberties or equal opportunity. He wanted the law used to advance human rights, not just protect property rights, and lawyers to participate in democratic grass-roots movements.

Anti- Semitism (reappearing during his judicial nomination) and a Depression drove the Portlander in 1929 into a struggling legal practice for small businesses and fellow Jews. His calling was as a “cause” lawyer, mainly for public power and the American Civil Liberties Union. He was its local appeals counsel in the landmark DeJonge v. Oregon, 299 US 353 (1937), and helped to win a rare unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision. That influential case continues to be relied upon in all levels of federal and state appellate courts today, including  in another recent landmark decision, McDonald v. City of Chicago, 130 S Ct 3020 (2010).

As a lawyer, Solomon quickly became a devotee of Jewish political and charitable interests. He labored for equal opportunities for Jews, African-Americans, and others in and out of his profession. He  informally helped end both Portland law firms’ discrimination in hiring and promoting Jews and women and local social clubs’ bans on Jews.  During the Depression, he was a key leader in the move to establish the Legal Aid Society, that opened in Portland in 1936. 

Judge Solomon  was proudest of protecting the rights and opportunities of political and racial minorities and modernizing District Court administration.  His legacy includes a number of  key civil rights decisions. In 1972, Judge Solomon ruled in Falkenstein v. The Department of Revenue for the State of Oregon, 350 F Supp 887 (D. Or 1972) that the Portland Elks Lodge could not receive state tax exemptions because of its racially exclusive membership policies.  He ruled in Henderson v. State of Oregon, by and through the Bureau of Labor, 405 F Supp 1271 (D. Or 1975) that Oregon discriminated against women by using different life expectancy tables for determining their retirement benefits.  And in one of the earliest gay rights cases, Burton v. Cascade School Dist. Union High School No. 5, 353 F Supp 254 (D. Or. 1973), he overturned as unconstitutionally vague an immortality statute used to fire a homosexual teacher.

Read more in:

Gus J Solomon
Gus J. Solomon: Liberal Politics, Jews, And the Federal Courts - Paperback (June 30, 2006) by Harry H. Stein and Gus J. Solomon

Printed with permission of Harry H. Stein.
http://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/entry/view/solomon_gus_j_1906_1987_/