Frank Murphy Biography

Supreme Court Justice, Mayor (1890–1949)
Frank Murphy served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court from 1940 to 1949. He established the Civil Rights Unit of the Department of Justice.


Associate justice of the Supreme Court, Frank Murphy, was born on April 13, 1890, in Harbor Beach, Michigan. He studied law at the University of Michigan and served in World War I. Detroit elected him mayor in 1930. He later served as U.S. high commissioner in the Philippines. Known for as an advocate for individual and civil rights, he denounced the wartime internment of Japanese Americans.

Early Life and Career

Born on April 13, 1890, in Harbor Beach, Michigan, Frank Murphy had a number of important government posts during his long career. He served as a U.S. Supreme Court justice from 1940 to 1949.

Murphy graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1914. Enlisting in the U.S. Army, he served in World War I. After the war, he returned to Michigan where he became assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District. Murphy worked as a prosecutor for several years before becoming a judge. He served on Detroit's Recorder Court, the city's top criminal court.

Leading Political Figure

In 1930, Murphy held his first political post. He became the mayor of Detroit, helping to guide the city through the Great Depression. Murphy also launched the U.S. Conference of Mayor, serving as the group's first president. After a failed bid for reelection, Murphy left office in 1933. He was appointed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to serve as the governor general of the Philippines.

Murphy returned to the United States to run for his home state's top political job. In 1936, he became the governor of Michigan. Murphy, a supporter of Roosevelt's New Deal policies, boosted aid to the unemployed and increased education spending. He also proved to be a skilled negotiator, helping to resolve the General Motors strike of 1937.

After losing his campaign for reelection in 1938, Murphy soon became the government's top prosecutor. Roosevelt appointed him U.S. attorney general in 1939. His time in this post was brief, however. But he manage to make some impact on the nation's Justice Department, forming its Civil Rights Division.

Supreme Court Justice

In 1940, President Roosevelt nominated Murphy to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. He was brought in to replace Pierce Butler. Both Butler and Murphy were Catholics, and the appointment of Murphy was meant to keep a representative of the Catholic faith on the court. Murphy became known for being a liberal justice, often aligning himself with Hugo Black and William O. Douglas.

Known for being a supporter of civil rights, Murphy reversed his own position on whether students could refuse to salute the flag on religious grounds. He first supported making the flag salute mandatory in 1940's Minersville School District v. Gobitis. Four years, however, Murphy granted students this right of refusal in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.

During World War II, Murphy voiced his vehement dissent to the decision on Korematsu v. United States (1944). This case ruled that the U.S. government's internment camps for Japanese Americans were constitutional. Murphy also opposed the use of evidence that the police obtained in violation of a suspect's Fourth Amendment rights. This belief led to his dissenting opinion in the 1949 case of Wolf v. Colorado. Murphy remained on the U.S. Supreme Court until his death. He died on July 17, 1949, in Detroit, Michigan.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!