1939 February 2

Attorney General Frank Murphy Creates DOJ Civil Liberties Unit


Attorney General Frank Murphy on this day established the Civil Liberties Unit in the U.S. Justice Department, the forerunner of today’s Civil Rights Division. This marked the first time the federal government had an agency devoted to the active defense of the civil rights and civil liberties of the American people. There is no evidence that President Franklin D. Roosevelt played a role in the creation of the unit, however; it appears to have been entirely the work of Murphy.

Roosevelt appointed Murphy U.S. Attorney General on January 2, 1939, and then to the Supreme Court on January 18, 1940. He continued to be a champion of civil liberties on the Court until his death in 1949. Murphy is especially famous for his dissent in Korematsu v. United States, decided on December 18, 1944, in which he denounced the racism in the evacuation and interment of the Japanese-Americans during World War II.

See the life of Frank Murphy that mentions this unit: http://www.michbar.org/journal/article.cfm?articleID=42&volumeID=6

On the early years of the Civil Liberties Unit, read Eleanor Bonetcou’s oral history interview at the Truman Library: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/oralhist/bontecou.htm

Read Frank Murphy’s official Justice Department biography (with links to his speeches): http://www.justice.gov/ag/aghistpage.php?id=55

Learn more about Frank Murphy and civil liberties: http://uscivilliberties.org/biography/4177-murphy-frank-18901949.html

Visit today’s Civil Rights Division: http://www.justice.gov/crt/

Read Murphy’s Supreme Court biography: http://supremecourthistory.org/timeline_murphy.html

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