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Frank Murphy

In office
January 18, 1940[1] – July 19, 1949
Nominated by Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by Pierce Butler
Succeeded by Tom C. Clark

In office
January 2, 1939 – January 18, 1940
Preceded by Homer S. Cummings
Succeeded by Robert H. Jackson

In office
January 1, 1937 – January 1, 1939
Lieutenant Leo J. Nowicki
Preceded by Frank Fitzgerald
Succeeded by Frank Fitzgerald

In office
Preceded by (post made)
Succeeded by Paul V. McNutt

In office
July 15, 1933 – November 15, 1935
Preceded by Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
Succeeded by (post abolished): Manuel L. Quezon as the President of the Philippine Commonwealth

Born Harbor Beach, Michigan
Died July 19, 1949 (aged 59)
Detroit, Michigan
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) none
Alma mater University of Michigan Law School
Trinity College, Dublin
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Rank Captain
Battles/wars World War I
World War II

William Francis (Frank) Murphy (April 13, 1890 – July 19, 1949) was a politician and jurist from Michigan. He served as First Assistant U.S. District Attorney, Eastern Michigan District (1920-23), Recorder's Court Judge, Detroit (1923-30). Mayor of Detroit (1930–33), the last Governor-General of the Philippines (1933-35), U.S. High Commissioner of the Philippines (1935–36), the 35th Governor of Michigan (1937-39), United States Attorney General (1939–40), and United States Supreme Court Associate Justice (1940–49).


Early life

Murphy was born in Harbor Beach, Michigan, then known as "Sand Beach"[2], in 1890. His Irish parents, John T. Murphy and Mary Brennan,[3] raised him as a devout Catholic.[4] He followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a lawyer. He attended the University of Michigan Law School, and graduated with a BA in 1912 and LLB in 1914. He was a member of the senior society Michigamua.[5] Murphy was stricken with Diphtheria in the winter of 1911 but was allowed to begin his course in the Law Department from which he received his LL.B. degree in 1914. He performed graduate work at Lincoln's Inn in London and Trinity College, Dublin, which was said to be formative for his judicial philosophy. He developed a need to decide cases based on his more holistic notions of justice, eschewing technical legal arguments. As one commentator wrote of his later supreme court service, he "tempered justice with Murphy."[6]

He served in the U.S. Army during World War I, achieving the rank of Captain with the occupation Army in Germany before leaving the service in 1919.

Murphy opened a private law office in Detroit and soon became the Chief Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. He opened the first civil rights section of a U.S. Attorney's office.

He taught at the University of Detroit for five years.

Murphy served as a Judge in the Detroit Recorder's Court from 1923 to 1930, and made many administrative reforms in the operations of the court.

While on Recorder's Court, he established a reputation as a trial judge. He was a presiding judge in the famous murder trials of Dr. Ossian Sweet and his brother, Henry Sweet in 1925 and 1926. Clarence Darrow, then one of the most prominent trial lawyers in the country, was lead counsel for the defense.[7] After an initial mistrial of all of the black defendants, Henry Sweet — who admitted that he fired the weapon which killed a member of the mob surrounding Dr. Sweet's home and was retried separately — was acquitted by an all-white jury on grounds of the right of self-defense.[8] The prosecution then elected to not prosecute any of the remaining defendants. Murphy's rulings were material to the outcome of the case.[9]

U.S. Attorney Eastern District of Michigan (1919–1922)

Murphy was appointed and took the oath of office as first assistant United States attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan on August 9, 1919.[10] He was one of three assistant attorneys in the office.

When Murphy began his career as a federal attorney, the workload of the attorney's office was increasing at a rapid rate, mainly due to the advent of national prohibition. The government's excellent record in winning convictions in the Eastern District was partially due to Murphy's record of winning all but one of the cases that he prosecuted. Murphy practiced law privately to a limited extent while he was still a federal attorney. He resigned his position as a United States attorney on March 1, 1922.[11] Murphy had several offers to join private practices but decided to go it alone and formed a partnership with Edward G. Kemp.[12]

Recorder's Court (1923–1930)

He ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for the United States Congress in 1920, when national and state Republicans swept Michigan. He drew upon his legal reputation and growing political connections to win a seat on the Recorder's Court, Detroit's criminal court.[13] In 1923, Murphy was elected judge of the Recorder's Court on a non-partisan ticket by one of the largest majorities ever cast for a judge in Detroit. Murphy took office on January 1, 1924 and served seven years during the Prohibition Era.

Mayor of Detroit (1930–1933)

In 1930, Murphy ran as a Democrat and was elected Mayor of Detroit. He served from 1930 to 1933, during the first years of the Great Depression. He presided over an epidemic of urban unemployment, a crisis in which 100,000 people were unemployed in the summer of 1931. He named an unemployment committee of private citizens from businesses, churches, and labor and social service organizations to identify all residents who were unemployed and not receiving welfare benefits. The Mayor’s Unemployment Committee raised funds for its relief effort and worked to distribute food and clothing to the needy, and a Legal Aid Subcommittee volunteered to assist with the legal problems of needy clients. In 1933, Murphy convened in Detroit and organized the first convention of the United States Conference of Mayors. They met and conferred with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Murphy was elected its first president.[14]

Murphy was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Roosevelt and the New Deal, helping Roosevelt to become the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state of Michigan.

Melvin G. Holli rated Murphy an exemplary mayor and highly effective leader.[15]

Governor-General of the Philippines (1933–1935)

By 1933, after Murphy’s second mayoral term, the reward of a big government job was waiting. Roosevelt appointed Murphy as Governor-General of the Philippines.

Murphy demonstrated sympathy for Filipino masses, especially for the land-hungry and oppressed tenant farmers, and emphasized the need for social justice.[16]

High Commissioner to the Philippines (1935–1936)

When his position as Governor-General was abolished in 1935, he stayed on as United States High Commissioner until 1936. That year he served as a delegate from the Philippine Islands to the Democratic National Convention.

High Commissioner to the Philippines was the title of the personal representative of the President of the United States to the Commonwealth of the Philippines during the period 1935-1946. The office was created by the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934, which provided for a period of transition from direct American rule to the complete independence of the islands on July 4, 1946.[17]

Governor of Michigan (1937-1939)

Murphy was elected the 35th Governor of Michigan on November 3, 1936, defeating Republican incumbent Frank Fitzgerald, and served one two-year term. During his two years in office, an unemployment compensation system was instituted and mental health programs were improved.

The United Automobile Workers engaged in an historic sit-down strike at the General Motors' Flint plant. The Flint Sit-Down Strike was a turning point in national collective bargaining and labor policy. After 27 people got injured in a battle between the workers and the police, including 13 strikers with gunshot wounds, Murphy sent the National Guard to protect the workers. The governor didn't follow a court's order requesting him to expel the strikers, and refused to order the guards troops to suppress the strike.[18][19][20]

Murphy successfully mediated an agreement and end to the confrontation; G.M. recognized the U.A.W. as bargaining agent under the newly adopted National Labor Relations Act. This had an effect upon organized labor.[21] In the next year the UAW saw its membership grow from 30,000 to 500,000 members. As later noted by the British Broadcasting System, this strike was "the strike heard round the world."[22]

In 1938, Murphy was defeated by his predecessor, Fitzgerald, who became the only governor from Michigan to succeed and precede the same person.

Attorney General of the United States (1939-1940)

In 1939, Roosevelt appointed Murphy the 56th Attorney General of the United States. Murphy established a Civil Liberties Section in the Criminal Division of the United States Department of Justice. The section was designed to centralize enforcement responsibility for the Bill of Rights and civil rights statutes.[23]

Supreme Court

After a year as Attorney General, on January 4, 1940, Murphy was nominated by Roosevelt to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, filling a seat vacated by Pierce Butler. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on January 16 and was sworn in on January 18.[2] The timing of the appointment put Murphy on the cusp of the Charles Evans Hughes[24] and the Harlan Fiske Stone courts.[25] Upon the death of Chief Justice Stone, Murphy served in the court led by Frederick Moore Vinson, who was confirmed in 1946.[26]

Murphy took an expansive view of individual liberties, and the limitations on government he found in the Bill of Rights.[27]

Murphy authored 199 opinions: 131 majority, 68 in dissent.[28]

Opinions differ about him and his jurisprudential philosophy. He has been acclaimed as a legal scholar and a champion of the common man.[28] Justice Felix Frankfurter disparagingly nicknamed Murphy "the Saint", criticizing his decisions as being rooted more in passion than reason. It has been said he was "Neither legal scholar nor craftsman" who was criticized "for relying on heart over head, results over legal reasoning, clerks over hard work, and emotional solos over team play.[29]

Murphy's support of African-Americans, aliens, criminals, dissenters, Jehovah's Witnesses, Native Americans, women, workers, and other outsiders evoked a pun: “tempering justice with Murphy.” As he wrote in Falbo v. United States (1944), “The law knows no finer hour than when it cuts through formal concepts and transitory emotions to protect unpopular citizens against discrimination and persecution.” (p. 561)

According to Frankfurter, Murphy was part of the more liberal "Axis" of justices on the Court, along with Justices Rutledge, Douglas, and Black; the group would for years oppose Frankfurter's judicially-restrained ideology.[30] Douglas, Murphy, and then Rutledge were the first justices to agree with Hugo Black's notion that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporated the Bill of Rights protection into it; this view would later become law.[31]

Though Murphy was serving on the Supreme Court during World War II, he still longed to be part of the war effort. Consequently, during recesses of the Court, he served in Fort Benning, Georgia as an infantry officer.[32]

On January 30, 1944, almost exactly before Allied liberation of the the Auschwitz death camp on January 27, 1945, Justice Murphy unveiled the formation of the National Committee Against Nazi Persecution and Extermination of the Jews. Serving as committee chair, he stated it was created to combat Nazi propaganda "breeding the germs of hatred against Jews." The announcement was made on the 11th anniversary of Adolf Hitler becoming Chancellor of Germany. The eleven committee members included U.S. Vice President Henry Wallace, 1940 Republican presidential candidate Wendell Wilkie and Henry St. George Tucker, Presiding Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church.[33]

He acted as chairman of the National Committee against Nazi Persecution and Extermination of the Jews and of the Philippine War Relief Committee.[34] The first committee was established in early 1944 to promote rescue of European Jews, and to combat antisemitism in the United States.[35]

Death and legacy

Murphy died at fifty-nine of coronary thrombosis during his sleep at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Over 10,000 people attended his funeral in Detroit. He was engaged to be married in August to Joan Cuddihy.

His remains are interred at Our Lady of Lake Huron Cemetery of Harbor Beach, Michigan.[36] [37] [38] The Frank Murphy Hall of Justice was home to Detroit's Recorder's Court and now houses part of Michigan's Third Judicial Circuit Court.[39] There is a plaque in his honor on the first floor, which is recognized as a Michigan Legal Milestone.[40]

Outside the Hall of Justice is Carl Milles's statue "The Hand of God".[41] This rendition was cast in honor of Murphy. It features a nude figure emerging from the left hand of God. Although commissioned in 1949 and completed by 1953, the work, partly because of the male nudity involved,[42] was kept in storage for a decade and a half.[43] The work was chosen in tribute to Murphy by Walter P. Reuther and Ira W. Jayne.[44] It was placed on a pedestal in 1970 with the help of sculptor Marshall Fredericks, who was a Milles student.

In memory of Murphy, one of three University of Michigan Law School alumni to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Washington D.C.-based attorney John H. Pickering, who was a law clerk for Murphy, donated a large sum of money to the law school as a remembrance, establishing the Frank Murphy Seminar Room.[5]

Murphy was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law degree by the University of Michigan in 1939.[48]

  • The University of Detroit has a Frank Murphy Honor Society.[49]

The Sweet Trials: Malice Aforethought is a play written by Arthur Beer, based on the trials of Ossian and Henry Sweet, and derived from Kevin Boyle's Arc of Justice.[50]

The Detroit Public Schools named Frank Murphy Elementary school in his honor.[51]

See also



  1. ^ "Federal Judicial Center: Frank Murphy". 2009-12-12. Retrieved 2009-12-12. 
  2. ^ a b Frank Murphy at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  3. ^ "NNDB, Frank Murphy.". 
  4. ^ "Article: Michigan Lawyers in History-Justice Frank Murphy, Michigan’s Leading Citizen". 1937-01-01. Retrieved 2009-02-19. 
  5. ^ a b "University of Michigan Law Quadrangle Notes on Frank Murphy." (PDF). 
  6. ^ "Linda Rapp, Frank Murphy, 1890 - 1949, A short biography of Frank Murphy.". 
  7. ^ Boyle, Kevin, Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age. (Henry Holt & Company, New York: 2004) ISBN 0805079335; ISBN 978-0805079333 (National Book Award Winner).
  8. ^ Ossian Haven Sweet American National Biography.
  9. ^ "Judge Frank Murphy's charge to the jury, People vs. Sweet, Famous American Trials, University of Missouri, Kansas City". 
  10. ^ Frank Murphy, The Detroit Years, page 58.
  11. ^ Frank Murphy, The Detroit Years, page 73.
  12. ^ Sidney Fine (1984). Frank Murphy, The Detroit Years. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0472329499. 
  13. ^ Finkelman, Paul (2006). Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties. Routledge. pp. 2304. ISBN 0415943426. 
  14. ^ "The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM)". 
  15. ^ Holli, Melvin G. (1999). The American mayor: the best & the worst big-city leaders. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0-271-01876-3. 
  16. ^ Gale, Thomson (2004). "Frank Murphy". Encyclopedia of World Biography. 
  17. ^ High Commissioner to the Philippines
  18. ^ [Times Herald] Connell: Murphy: a judge -- not a robot JULY 19, 2009
  19. ^ Professor Neil Leighton, Professor Emeritus, University of Michigan-Flint.
  20. ^ "Detroit News on the Flint UAW/GM sit-down strike.". 
  21. ^ "Detroit News, Rearview Mirror, The Sit-down strike at General Motors.". 
  22. ^ Detroit Free Press, Flint Sit-down strike end anniversary February 10, 2008.
  23. ^ Tushnet, Mark V. (1994). Making civil rights law: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court, 1936-1961. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-510468-4.,M1. 
  24. ^ Supreme Court Historical Society "on Hughes Court.". 
  25. ^ "Supreme Court Historical Society on Stone Court.". 
  26. ^ "Supreme Court Historical Society on Vinson Court.". 
  27. ^ See generally, Norris, Harold., Mr. Justice Murphy and the Bill of Rights. (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, Inc., 1965), which includes some of Murphy's opinions, as well as a biography.
  28. ^ a b Maveal, Gary, "Michigan Lawyers in History — Justice Frank Murphy, Michigan’s Leading Citizen", 79 Michigan Bar Journal 368 (March 2000).
  29. ^ Howard, J. Woodford, Jr., Mr. Justice Murphy: A Political Biography (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press: 1968).
  30. ^ Ball, Howard. Hugo L. Black: Cold Steel Warrior. Oxford University Press. 2006. ISBN 0-19-507814-4. Page 14.
  31. ^ Ball, Howard. Hugo L. Black: Cold Steel Warrior. Oxford University Press. 2006. ISBN 0-19-507814-4. Pages 212-213.
  32. ^ "Oyez: U.S. Supreme Court media on Frank Murphy". 
  33. ^ January 24, 2009, Meyer, Zlati, Murphy unveils anti-Nazi effort. Detroit Free Press.
  34. ^ "American President, An Online Reference Resource: Franklin Roosevelt.". 
  35. ^ Edelheit, Abraham; Edelheit, Hershel. (1994) History of the Holocaust: a handbook and dictionary (Boulder: Westview Press).  ISBN 0813322405; ISBN 9780813322407, 524 pages, p. 365.
  36. ^ Frank Murphy at Find a Grave Retrieved on 2008-02-10
  37. ^ See also, Christensen, George A. (1983) Here Lies the Supreme Court: Gravesites of the Justices, Yearbook. Supreme Court Historical Society at Internet Archive.
  38. ^ Christensen, George A., Here Lies the Supreme Court: Revisited, Journal of Supreme Court History, Volume 33 Issue 1, Pages 17 - 41 (19 Feb 2008), University of Alabama.
  39. ^ "Wayne County Prosecutor's webpage.". 
  40. ^ "Michigan Legal Milestones.". 
  41. ^ "Carl Milles sculptures, Detroit News.". 
  42. ^ "Photograph of Carl Milles' The Hand of God, evidencing why it was put on top of a 24-foot (7.3 m) spire.". 
  43. ^ Lidén, Elisabeth, Between Waters and Heaven: Carl Milles -Search for American Commissions, Almquist & Wiksell International, Stockholm, Sweden, 1986
  44. ^ The Detroit News - September 5, 1999
  45. ^ "Bentley Historical Library.". 
  46. ^ List of repositories of Murphy papers. Note: this list does not mention the Central Michigan University Clarke Historical Library; nor does it mention a number of other sources otherwise referenced in this article. See also, lists in Bibliography, including speeches and writings, of William Francis "Frank" Murphy, 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
  47. ^ See also, Federal Judicial Center, Researching Frank Murphy.
  48. ^ Sidney Fine (1984). Frank Murphy. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0472329499. 
  49. ^ "Frank Murphy Honor Society, University of Detroit honors Judge Julian Cook.". 
  50. ^ "The Sweet Trials: University of Detroit Mercy". 
  51. ^ "Frank Murphy School.". "List of Detroit Public Elementary Schools.". 

Further reading

Reading notes

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
Governor-General of the Philippines
Succeeded by
Manuel L. Quezon
as President of the Philippine Commonwealth
Preceded by
High Commissioner of the Philippines
Succeeded by
Paul V. McNutt
Preceded by
Frank Fitzgerald
Governor of Michigan
Succeeded by
Frank Fitzgerald
Legal offices
Preceded by
Homer S. Cummings
Attorney General of the United States
1939 – 1940
Succeeded by
Robert H. Jackson
Preceded by
Pierce Butler
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
January 18, 1940 – July 19, 1949
Succeeded by
Tom C. Clark

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