Justice Frank Murphy

Justice Frank Murphy (born William Francis Murphy) joined the U.S. Supreme Court on February 5, 1940, replacing Justice Pierce Butler. Murphy was born on April 13, 1890 near the coast of Lake Huron in Michigan. He graduated in 1912 from the University of Michigan and stayed there for law school, receiving his law degree two years later. After serving in the U.S. Army during the First World War, he pursued graduate education at Trinity College in Dublin and Lincoln’s Inn in London.

Upon returning to the U.S., Murphy served as Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Michigan. He also briefly practiced law in Detroit and then was elected in 1923 to a seat on the Detroit criminal court, known as the Recorder’s Court. Murphy served on the Recorder’s Court until 1930, when he was elected Mayor of Detroit. He held this post during the challenging period of the Great Depression, during which he supported Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal agenda.

In 1933, Roosevelt rewarded Murphy for his support by appointing him as Governor-General of the Philippine Islands. As the Philippines transitioned toward independence, the federal government ended the position of Governor-General in 1935. However, Murphy held the post of U.S. High Commissioner to the Philippines until the end of the following year.

Murphy became Governor of Michigan in 1937 but served only a single two-year term. After he lost his reelection bid, Roosevelt appointed him as U.S. Attorney General. Just one year later, on January 4, 1940, Roosevelt nominated Murphy to the Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on January 16, and he took the judicial oath about three weeks later. Although Murphy stayed on the Court for less than a decade, he served with three different Chief Justices: Charles Evans Hughes, Harlan Fiske Stone, and Fred M. Vinson.

Murphy developed a reputation as a compassionate jurist. His detractors felt that he sometimes took this trait too far, deciding cases based on emotion rather than reason. Murphy belonged to the liberal bloc of Justices during this period. Together with Justices William Douglas, Hugo Black, and Wiley Blount Rutledge, he favored a more assertive vision of judicial power than the restraint famously endorsed by Justice Felix Frankfurter. Murphy deserves credit for dissenting from the infamous 1944 decision in Korematsu v. U.S., in which the Court ruled that the Japanese-American internment camps during the Second World War were constitutional.

Murphy died on July 19, 1949 in Detroit during the summer recess of the Court. He was only 59 years old. Justice Tom C. Clark replaced him on the Court.

Selected Opinions by Justice Murphy:

SEC v. Chenery Corp. (Chenery II) (1947)

Topic: Government Agencies

The choice between proceeding by general rule or by ad hoc decisions lies primarily in the informed discretion of the administrative agency. The fact that an ad hoc decision might have a retroactive effect does not necessarily render it invalid.

Hickman v. Taylor (1947)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

Memoranda, statements, and mental impressions prepared or obtained from interviews with witnesses by counsel in preparing for litigation after a claim has arisen are not within the attorney-client privilege. However, a party who would invade the privacy of an attorney's course of preparation must establish adequate reasons to justify production through a subpoena or court order.

Lavender v. Kurn (1946)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

When there is an evidentiary basis for the jury's verdict, the jury is free to discard or disbelieve whatever facts are inconsistent with its conclusion. The appellate court's function is exhausted when that evidentiary basis becomes apparent. It is immaterial that the court might draw a contrary inference or feel that another conclusion is more reasonable.

Commissioner v. Flowers (1946)

Topic: Taxes

Traveling expenses of an employee resulting from the fact that they choose for reasons of personal convenience to maintain a residence in a city other than the city in which their post of duty is located are not deductible as travel expenses in pursuit of business.

Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co. (1945)

Topic: Government Agencies

In interpreting an administrative regulation, a court must look to the administrative construction of the regulation if the meaning of the words used is in doubt. The administrative interpretation holds controlling weight unless it is plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation. (The Court reaffirmed this rule in Auer v. Robbins.)

Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942)

Topic: Free Speech

There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or fighting words, which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.

Glasser v. U.S. (1942)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

The right to have the assistance of counsel is too fundamental to be made to depend upon nice calculations by courts of the degree of prejudice arising from its denial.

Hort v. Commissioner (1941)

Topic: Taxes

If a payment was a substitute for rent, which is characterized as gross income, it must be regarded as ordinary income. It is immaterial that, for some purposes, the contract creating the right to such payments may be treated as property or capital.