1939 January 2

Frank Murphy, Civil Libertarian, Appointed Attorney General


Frank Murphy, a committed civil libertarian, was appointed Attorney General of the United States on this day by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Murphy had a long and distinguished civil liberties career. In September 9, 1925, as a municipal court judge in Detroit, he presided over the trial of Ossian Sweet, in what was a famous race discrimination case. As Attorney General, he immediately created the Civil Liberties Union on February 2, 1939, the forerunner of today’s Civil Rights Division. He joined the Supreme Court on January 18, 1940.

Murphy is perhaps best remembered for his ringing dissent in Korematsu v. United States (December 18, 1944) in which he denounced the federal government’s evacuation and internment of the Japanese-Americans as “racism.” His opinion is believed to be the first time the word “racism” was used by the Supreme Court justice.

Read: Sidney E. Fine, Frank Murphy: The Detroit Years (2 vols., 1975)

Justice Frank Murphy’s famous Korematsu dissent: “Such exclusion goes over ‘the very brink of constitutional power,’ and falls into the ugly abyss of racism.”

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

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