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Supreme Court Justices

Frank Murphy (1890-1949)

Frank Murphy was born in Michigan on April 13, 1890. His father was a lawyer, and Murphy came from a devout Roman Catholic family. Murphy earned a law degree from the University of Michigan, and then served as an officer in World War I. He was a private practitioner after returning from Europe, and in the early 1920s appointed as an assistant United States Attorney. He then served as a local judge until 1930, when he was elected Mayor of Detroit. In 1933, Murphy was appointed governor general (and when the responsibilities of the post were altered, high commissioner) of the Philippines. After three years there, Murphy was elected Governor of Michigan. After he lost his bid for re-election, Murphy was named Attorney General by FDR. When the Catholic Pierce Butler died on November 16, 1939, Murphy was nominated by FDR to the Court's then "Catholic" seat. He took his seat in January 1940. As a Justice, Murphy was strongly protective of individual rights claims. For example, he supported the claims of Jehovah's Witnesses to refuse to salute the flag, and he interpreted broadly the free exercise and free speech clauses of the First Amendment. Murphy strongly opposed discrimination, and was a forceful proponent of aiding the poor and disfavored. He dissented in Korematsu v. US (1944), the Japanese Internment Camp case, and was a proponent of incorporating most of the Bill of Rights into the Fourteenth Amendment, thus making them applicable to state as well as federal action. Murphy was derisively called "the Saint" by Felix Frankfurter, and was criticized for making decisions more on passion than reason.

His biographer called him "narcissistic," and a "priestly jurist." Murphy was a life-long bachelor. He died at age 59, on July 19, 1949.

Further reading: J. Woodford Howard, Jr., Mr. Justice Murphy: A Political Biography (1968).