1949 : Former Michigan Governor Frank Murphy Dies

July 19, 2024 all-day

On July 19, 1949, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy died at the age of 59. Over his career in public life, he served as a Judge of Detroit Recorders Court, Mayor of Detroit, Governor of Michigan, U.S. Attorney General, U.S. Governor General of the Philippines, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice for the final nine years of his life. Over 10,000 people attended his funeral in Detroit following his unexpected death.

Murphy is perhaps most well known for his vehement dissent from the court’s ruling in Korematsu v. United States, which upheld the constitutionality of the government’s internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Murphy sharply criticized the majority ruling as “legalization 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 decision of Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967)

Murphy was also the presiding judge for the famous murder trials of Dr. Ossian Sweet and his brother, Henry Sweet in 1925 and 1926.

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)

Sources :

Detroit Historical Society Facebook page

Frank Murphy wikipeida entry

Frank Murphy, Fred Korematsu, and the Internment of Japanese Americans During World War II, part of the Defining Moments film series by Michigan Government Television.  Yellow Peril Lesson Plan still available via Internet Archives.

Dan Austin, “Why Frank Murphy was one of Detroit’s best mayors ever”, Detroit Free Press, July 19, 2015.

Also see Frank Murphy / by Sidney Fine. Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press, c1975- 3 volumes. MSU Business Library KF8745.M8 F49 Also available in Schaeffer Law Library.

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