1939 April 19

AG Frank Murphy Urges U.S. Attorneys Protect Civil Liberties


“We must make democracy work,” declared the Attorney General Frank Murphy, and “one of the best ways to do that is to make civil liberty a reality for everyone in our midst, no matter how humble or how great.” Murphy spoke on this day at the first-ever conference that brought together all of the U.S. Attorneys from across the country. He was the first attorney general to openly advocate the protection of civil liberties by the government. On February 2, 1939, he established the Civil Liberties Unit within the Justice Department, the forerunner of today’s Civil Right Division.

President Franklin 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 strong supporter of civil liberties while on the Court. He is perhaps most famous for his strong dissent in Korematsu v. United States (December 18, 1944), one of three major cases involving the Japanese-American evacuation and internment, where he denounced the government’s policy as going to the “ugly abyss of racism.”

Learn more about Frank Murphy: Sidney Fine, Frank Murphy, 2 Vols. (1975)

And more: Harold Morris, ed., Frank Murphy and the Bill of Rights (1965)

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

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

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