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), Governor of Michigan (1937-39), United States Attorney General (1939–40), and United States Supreme Court Associate Justice (1940–49).
Frank Murphy was born in Harbor Beach in 1890 to Irish parents, John T. Murphy and Mary Brennan, who raised him as a devout Catholic. He followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a lawyer. He attended the University of Michigan Law School
, where he was a member of the senior society Michigamua
. He graduated with a BA
in 1912 and LLB
in 1914. This was a combined literary and law course, a program in which students would first earn a baccalaureate degree in liberal arts and then proceed to the study of law. 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
and Trinity College, Dublin
, which was said to be formative for his judicial philosophy. In particular, 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.'
He served in the U.S. Army during World War I, achieved the rank of Captain with the Occupation Army in Germany and left the service in 1919.
After leaving the service, 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 office.
He taught at the University of Detroit for five years.
Frank Murphy served as a Judge in the Detroit Recorder's Court from 1923 to 1930, and made many administative reforms in the operations of the court:
- Detroit's growing "car culture" was accommodated by his assistance in creating an independent Traffic Court;
- He established a professional, nonpolitical probation department as an arm of the court, so that probation could be better aimed at social service and rehabilitation; and
- He helped create a bond bureau as part of the court's operations, so that pretrial release would be more evenly available to rich and poor alike. See generally, Bail bondsman.
While on Recorder's Court, he established a reputation as a trial judge. He was presiding judge in the famous (and racially-charged) murder trials of Dr. Ossian Sweet and his brother, Henry Sweet, in 1925 and 1926, where Clarence Darrow was counsel for the defense. After an initial mistrial of all of the black defendants, Henry Sweet—who admitted he fired the weapon that killed a member of the mob surrounding Dr. Sweet's home and was retried separately—was acquitted by an all white jury. The prosecution then elected to not prosecute any of the remaining defendants. Judge Murphy's rulings were material to the outcome of the case.
In 1930, Murphy ran as a Democrat
and was elected Mayor of Detroit
. He served from 1930 to 1933. In 1933, as Mayor he convened in Detroit and organized the first convention of the United States Conference of Mayors
—- they met and conferred with President Franklin Roosevelt
-— and Murphy was elected its first president. As a mayor and a governor, he believed in efficient and good government, not just more government.
He helped the unemployed during the Great Depression and was also a supporter of President Roosevelt and the New Deal. In fact, his principal biographer noted that "he was a new dealer even before there was a New Deal.
In 1933, Roosevelt appointed Murphy as the Governor-General of the Philippines. In January 1935, a Philippine military camp which would later serve as the headquarters of the country's armed forces was named after him. It was later renamed Camp Aguinaldo after the Philippines' first president. When his position as Governor-General was abolished in 1935, he stayed on as the United States High Commissioner until 1936. That year he served as a delegate from the Philippine Islands to the Democratic National Convention which re-nominated President Roosevelt for a second term.
Murphy was elected 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. Mental health programs were also improved.
The United Automobile Workers engaged in an historic sit down strike in General Motors Flint plant. The Flint Sit-Down Strike was a turning point in national collective bargaining and labor policy. Importantly, during the sit down strike, the governor brought out the national guard, but refused to order the troops to suppress it. Then Governor Murphy successfully mediated an agreement and an end to the confrontation; G.M. recognized the U.A.W. as bargaining agent. This had an incalculable effect upon the fortunes of organized labor and institutionally recognized its legitimacy. 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.
In 1938, Murphy was defeated by his predecessor, Fitzgerald, becoming the only governor from Michigan to succeed and precede the same person.
His success as Michigan governor and U.S. Attorney General led Time Magazine to talk of him as the Democratic presidential or vice presidential candidate in 1940.
Melvin G. Holli wrote extensively about Frank Murphy in The American Mayor: The Best & The Worst Big-City Leaders, and rated him an exemplary mayor (one of the best) and highly effective leader, who brought together the right skills and strategies to deal with the opportunities and challenges presented. Murphy is noted as being one of the foremost examples of compounding his success as a big city mayor to a highly productive leap into national politics and office.
In 1939, President Roosevelt appointed Murphy as his Attorney General. He served one year, and established the first civil rights section in that department.
He was involved in a public and widespread crusade against organized crime syndicates, including the formidable Thomas Pendergast in Kansas City, Missouri (and other political racketeers). Under his administration, the United States Department of Justice in Detroit indicted 16 alleged Communists and fellow travelers for having recruited volunteers for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade supporting Spanish Republican forces against Franco and the Nationalists. This earned Murphy censure from liberals. While being outwardly aggressive as Attorney General, the internal administrative accomplishments of Murphy's administration are reportedly mixed—he brought with him his cohorts from Michigan and demoralized professionals in the Department of Justice—and he reluctantly accepted a promotion to Associate Supreme Court Justice. He was replaced in the Attorney General's position by Robert H. Jackson. One writer counted him as a far better supreme court justice than he was an attorney general.
Supreme Court service
After a year as Attorney General, in 1940 President Roosevelt nominated Murphy to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
. The timing of the appointment put Justice Murphy on the cusp of the Hughes
and the Stone
courts. Upon the death of Chief Justice
Harlan Fiske Stone, Murphy then served in the court led by Frederick Moore Vinson
, who was confirmed in 1946.
Justice Murphy took an expansive view of individual liberties, and the limitations on government he found in the Bill of Rights.
On the Court, Murphy was a voice for protection of individual rights. John P. Frank, in "The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions", called him the Supreme Court's "most consistent voice for kindness, tolerance and humanity.".
- In particular, he was a consistent, vocal and recognized champion of First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of expression.
- Despite being expansive in his view of free speech, Justice Murphy wrote for the court a recognition that there are limits in the use of so-called 'fighting words.' In Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, a case involving "insulting or fighting' words . . . are no essential part of any exposition of ideas" and therefore are not protected under the First Amendment.
- Among Murphy's most famous dissenting opinions was in the case of Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944), in which he charged that by upholding the forced relocation of Japanese-Americans during World War II the Court was sinking into "the ugly abyss of racism." This was the first time that the word "racism" found its way into the lexicon of words used in Supreme Court opinion (he used it twice in a concurring opinion in Steele v. Louisville & Nashville R. Co. 323 U.S. 192 (1944) issued that same day). He would use that word in five separate opinions. However the word "racism" disappeared with Murphy and from the court for almost two decades, not reappearing until the landmark (and ironically-named) decision of Loving v. Virginia, which struck down as unconstitutional the Virginia anti-miscegenation statute. See also Jim Crow laws.
- Mr. Justice Murphy wrote the opinion of the court in Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88 (1940), which overturned the Alabama law that forbade all forms of labor picketing. Picketing was protected under the First Amendment as a form of free speech: He wrote: "In the circumstances of our times the dissemination of information concerning the facts of a labor dispute must be regarded as within that area of free discussion that is guaranteed by the Constitution . . . Labor relations are not matters of mere local or private concern. Free discussion concerning the conditions in industry and the causes of labor disputes appears to us indispensable to the effective and intelligent use of the processes of popular government to shape the destiny of modern industrial society."
- In Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25 (1949) he wrote in important dissent (and a concurring opinion with Justice Rutledge) on the issue of the exclusionary rule as a sanction for Fourth Amendment search and seizure violations. He brought to bear his perspective and experience as a trial judge and prosecutor. This dissent was ultimately adopted by the Supreme Court 22 years later in the landmark decision in Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961).
- In Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158 (1944),his fierce dissent declared: "Religious freedom is too sacred a right to be restricted or prohibited in any degree without convincing proof that a legitimate interest of the state is in grave danger."
- During World War II, Murphy supported individual's First Amendment rights, even as patriotism and nationalism became increasingly fervent. Some state governments passed laws requiring children to salute the flag and pledge allegiance each morning in school. Some religious groups protested these compulsory acts of patriotism. They argued their religion forbade their worship of secular images. Murphy voted with the majority to strike down such a law in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, , 63 S.Ct. 1178, 87 L.Ed. 1628. In doing this about face from his earlier concurrence in Minersville School District v. Gobitis , Justice Murphy believed he had rectified an unfortunate and mistaken decision made when he was new to the court.
Justice Murphy authored 199 opinions: 131 majority; 68 in dissent. Other important majority opinions were: Industrial Commission v. McCartin, 330 U.S. 622 (1947) (which seeks to harmonize policy problems of workers' rights, workers' compensation in two different states, and their interaction with the Full Faith and Credit Clause, Article IV, Section 1 of the United States Constitution); and Trupiano v. United States, 334 U.S. 699 (1948) which concerns the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. An important dissent not yet mentioned is in Jones v. City of Opelika, 316 U.S. 584 (1942),
Opinions differ about him and his jurisprudential philosophy. He has been acclaimed as a legal scholar and a champion of the common man.. Justice Felix Frankfurter disparagingly nicknamed Murphy "the Saint", criticizing his decisions as being rooted more in passion than reason. One of Justice Murphy's biographers called him a "priestly jurist" and "narcissistic. It is generally agreed that he principally made his greatest mark by being a liberal counterpoint to the court in his separate concurring and dissenting opinions.
According to Justice 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. 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.
Frank Murphy was one of eleven Catholic justices out of 108 total through the appointment of Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts in the history of the Supreme Court.
Even though he 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.
Death and legacy
- Murphy died at age of fifty-nine of a heart attack during his sleep at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. His death was mourned by many. He is interred at Our Lady of Lake Huron Cemetery of Harbor Beach, Michigan. Over 10,000 people attended his funeral in Detroit. He was never married.
- The Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, named for him, was formerly home to Detroit's Recorder's Court and now houses part of Michigan's Third Judicial Circuit Court. There is a plaque in his honor on the first floor, which is recognized as a Michigan Legal Milestone.
- Outside the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice is a Carl Milles's statue (one of his last) called "The Hand of God". This rendition was cast in honor of Frank 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, was kept in storage for over a decade and a half. It was placed on a pedestal in 1970 with the help of sculptor Marshall Fredericks, who was a Milles' student. The statue was commissioned by the United Automobile Workers and was paid for by individual members or UAW locals, . depending upon which source you want to credit.
- Murphy's personal and official files are archived at the Bentley Historical Library of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and are open for research. This also includes an oral history project about Frank Murphy. However, his correspondence and other official documents are deposited in more than 40 libraries around the country.
- In memory of Justice Murphy, the only University of Michigan alumnus to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Washington D.C.-based attorney John H. Pickering (who clerked for Murphy and offered some insight into his thought process) donated a large sum to the law school as a remembrance, establishing the Frank Murphy Seminar Room. In passing, it should be recalled that Frank Murphy was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law degree by the University of Michigan in 1939.
- His old law office is the Frank Murphy Memorial Museum in downtown Harbor Beach, Michigan. His home is there, too.
- He is memorialized in three official Michigan Historical Markers:
- The State Bar of Michigan has memorialized Frank Murphy in three locations for "Michigan Legal Milestones", namely:
- Ossian Sweet Murder trial at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice;
- Justice Murphy authored the 1948 Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co. decision, which was an important Supreme Court labor law decision interpreting the Fair Labor Standards Act, which arose out of a case involving employee working time. It is located at the Riverfront Gazebo by the Municipal Building in Mount Clemens. It was dedicated on September 1, 1994.
- Murphy's Dissent in Korematsu v. United States, protesting the decision to uphold exclusion orders imposed upon persons of Japanese descent during World War II. The plaque was dedicated and placed in front of the Frank Murphy home in Harbor Beach on August 16, 1996.
- The University of Detroit has a "Frank Murphy Honor Society.
- 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.
- The Detroit Public Schools named Frank Murphy School in his honor. It is at 23901 Fenkell in the City of Detroit.
- Frank Murphy's professional motto was: "Speak softly and hit hard."
- According to one biographer, Murphy's ruling principle in his life was said to be: "I should like to belong to that small company of public servants and others who are content to do some of the homely and modest task of perfecting integrity in government and making government more efficient and orderly.
Bibliography and further reading
- Bak, Richard , "(Frank) Murphy's Law", Hour Detroit, September, 2008.
- Boyle, Kevin, Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age (Henry Holt & Company, New York: 2004). (National Book Award Winner) ISBN 0805079335; ISBN 978-0805079333.
- Fine, Sidney, Frank Murphy in World War I. (Ann Arbor: Michigan Historical Collections, 1968) Photos, 44 pp.
- Fine, Sidney, Frank Murphy: The Detroit Years. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1975) 618 pages. ISBN 0472329499.
- Fine, Sidney, Frank Murphy: The New Deal Years. (University of Chicago Press: 1979) ISBN 0226249344; ISBN 9780226249346; ISBN 0226658716.
- Fine, Sidney, Frank Murphy. Volume 3, The Washington Years (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984) ISBN 0472100467.
- Fine, Sidney, Frank Murphy. 3 vols. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1975-1984).
- Fine, Sidney, Sit-down: The General Motors Strike of 1936-1937. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1969). ISBN 9780472329489; ISBN 0472329480; ISBN 039511778X.
- Frank, John P., The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions (Leon Friedman and Fred L. Israel, editors) (Chelsea House Publishers: 1995) ISBN 0791013774, ISBN 978-0791013779.
- Holli, Melvin G., The American Mayor: The Best & The Worst Big-City Leaders. (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999.) xi + 210 pp. Photographs, appendices, notes, and index. ISBN 978-0-271-01877-5; ISBN 0-271-01876-3.
- Howard, J. Woodford, Jr., Mr. Justice Murphy: A Political Biography (Princeton University Press: 1968).
- Lopez, Ian F. Haney, A nation of minorities: race, ethnicity, and reactionary colorblindness, Stanford Law Review, February 1, 2007.
- Nawrocki, Dennis Alan, Art in Detroit Public Places, (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1980). pg. 63, biographical material on Frank Murphy.
- Norris, Harold, Mr. Justice Murphy and the Bill of Rights. (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, Inc., 1965).
- Ossian Sweet Murder Trial Scrapbook, 1925. Scrapbook and photocopy of the Nov. 1925 murder trial of Ossian Sweet. Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University.
- St. Antoine, Theodore J., Justice Frank Murphy and American labor law. Michigan Law Review, June 1, 2002.
- Toms, Robert, Speech on the Sweet murder trials upon retirement of the prosecuting attorney in 1960, Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University.
- Vine, Phyllis. One Man's Castle: Clarence Darrow in Defense of the American Dream. (New York: Amistad, 2005). ISBN 9780066214153.
External links and additional references
- Bak, Richard , "(Frank) Murphy's Law", Hour Detroit, September, 2008.
- The Detroit News, Rearview Mirror, The Historic 1936-37 Flint Auto Plant Strike
- Retrieved on 2008-02-10
- Frank Murphy quotations a few.
- Lariens, Michael on Frank Murphy
- Mavea, Gary, Michigan Lawyers in History--Justice Frank Murphy, Michigan’s Leading Citizen, Michigan Bar Journal.
- The Sweet Trials home page, Famous American Trials, University of Missouri, Kansas City.
- Lopez, Ian F. Haney, "A nation of minorities": race, ethnicity, and reactionary colorblindness, Stanford Law Review, February 1, 2007.
- Political Graveyard
- National Governors' Association, Frank Murphy Biography.*
- Oyez: U.S. Supreme Court media on Frank Murphy
- The Sweet Trials U-D Mercy.
- "Death of an Apostle". Time Magazine. Retrieved on 2008-08-14.
- University of Michigan Law Quadrangle Notes on Frank Murphy.
- United States Conference of Mayors on Frank Murphy
- United States Department of Justice of U.S. Attorneys General, Frank Murphy.