He began his legal career as an attorney in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice. During his time in the Department of Justice, he skillfully managed his brother John's campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1952.
After the campaign, he became chief counsel to the Senate Labor Rackets Committee Hearings in 1956. Countering the testimony of Jimmy Hoffa, Kennedy proved himself as a proficient attorney and made a name for himself on Capitol Hill. He left the Rackets Committee in 1959 to lead another successful campaign for his brother, John—this time for the presidency. Following the election, President John F. Kennedy appointed him to his cabinet as attorney general. His inclusion in President Kennedy's cabinet led to charges of nepotism, but Robert Kennedy proved himself to be a forceful attorney general.
He was President Kennedy's closest advisor. This relationship proved to be essential as United States military action in the Cold War developed. He played a key role in advising the president on the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis eighteen months later, and the escalating military action in Vietnam.
After John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963, Robert Kennedy resigned his cabinet position to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate representing New York. In the Senate, he was a vigorous advocate of social reform and became identified particularly as a spokesman for the rights of minorities. Although Kennedy had supported his brother's increase of United States aid to the South Vietnamese government, he became critical of President Lyndon B. Johnson's acceleration of the Vietnam War and by 1968 was advocating that the Viet Cong be included in a South Vietnamese coalition government.
Urged to run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968, he declined until incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson dropped out of the running after defeating Senator Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary by a narrow margin. On March 16, 1968, Kennedy declared his candidacy for the presidency.
Using his previous campaign experience, he conducted an energetic campaign and won a series of primary victories, culminating in California on June 4, 1968. After addressing his supporters at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, Kennedy was shot at point blank range by a Jordanian-American named Sirhan B. Sirhan. He died on the morning of June 6, 1968 at the age of forty-two.
Sirhan was captured at the scene and later convicted of murder. Like his brother John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy was interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
Included in his accomplishments and published posthumously are Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis (1969) and To Seek a Newer World (1969). David Coffey
Kennedy, Robert F. Robert Kennedy in His Own Words: The Unpublished Recollections of the Kennedy Years. New York: Bantam, 1988.; Kennedy, Robert F.Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999.; Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. Robert Kennedy and His Times. New York: Ballantine, 1996.