Murphy was the most consistent voice for basic fairness and tolerance on the socially conscious New Deal-era Supreme Court. He voted continually with the Court majority when it expanded civil liberties and wrote ringing dissents when it denied a claimed right.
Murphy earned undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Michigan. After serving in Europe during World War I (1917-1918), he served as an assistant U.S. attorney and then as a judge in Detroit’s principal criminal court. In 1930 pro-labor Democrat Murphy was elected mayor of Detroit. In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him governor general of the Philippines, where he served successfully until he returned to Michigan to run for state governor in 1936. After he was elected, Murphy’s refusal to use force to end sit-in strikes cost him reelection in 1938, whereupon Roosevelt appointed him U.S. attorney general. His one-year stint as attorney general long influenced future litigation before the Supreme Court because he created the Justice Department’s first civil rights unit, which aggressively protected the civil liberties of racial, political, and religious minorities.
Upon the death of Justice Pierce Butler
Murphy described the court as a “great pulpit,” and from it he supported society’s underdogs. His moralizing obiter dicta (incidental remarks) gave rise to the phrase “justice tempered with Murphy.” A devout Catholic
In more than nine years on the Court, Murphy wrote 131 opinions for the Court majority or concurring with it and 68 dissents; his most outstanding opinions advocated protection for civil liberties. His first opinion, Thornhill v. Alabama
Japanese American relocation
Religion, freedom of
Thornhill v. Alabama