History of the Federal Judiciary

History of the Federal Judiciary

  The Rosenberg Trial
Learn about the case -- historical background and documents


Irving Saypol

Irving Saypol, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, was the chief prosecutor on the Rosenberg case. His aggressive handling of the case, combined with a penchant for seeking publicity, won him popular acclaim and helped propel him to a state judgeship shortly after the trial.

Saypol was born September 3, 1905, and like the Rosenbergs, came from New York City’s Lower East Side. After attending New York City public schools, he studied at St. Lawrence University and Brooklyn Law School and was admitted to the bar in 1928. He first worked in the office of the city’s corporation counsel, which he left to found his own law firm in 1934. In 1945, Saypol began work at the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, and he served as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1949 to 1951.

Working as chief federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, which included Manhattan, during the height of the Cold War, Saypol built his reputation on cases involving Communists, including the leaders of the Communist Party USA. Next to the Rosenberg case, the most prominent was the perjury case against Alger Hiss, the State Department official convicted of lying about having leaked government secrets to the Soviets through admitted spy Whittaker Chambers.

In November 1951, Saypol was elected to a fourteen-year term as a justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, the state’s second-highest court; he was reelected in 1965, having enjoyed bipartisan support in both elections. In 1976, he was accused of using his power to appoint lawyers to court assignments to benefit his son financially, and was indicted by a grand jury on bribery and perjury charges. The charges against him were dismissed in January 1977. On July 1 of that year, Saypol died at the age of 71, only a few months before he was scheduled to retire from the bench.


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