Mr. Justice Murphy and the Bill of Rights
Harold Norris, signed by author
William Francis Murphy (April 13, 1890–July 19, 1949) was a jurist from Michigan. He was named to the Supreme Court in 1940 after a political career that included serving as US Attorney General, Michigan Governor and Detroit Mayor. He also served as the last Governor General of the Philippine Islands and as first High Commissioner of the Philippines.
Justice Murphy’s service on the Supreme Court for nine years, from 1940-49, marked his place as a champion of equal justice. He authored 199 opinions: 131 for the majority and 68 in dissent. Among his notable opinions for the Court were Thornhill v Alabama, 310 US 88 (1940), which held that peaceful picketing was a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment, and Anderson v Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., 328 US 680 (1946), which held that time spent by employees in walking to work stations after punching a time clock constituted working time within the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. (Congress responded with the Portal-to-Portal Act to largely relieve employers of the obligation to pay for employee’s time spent in nonproductive activities). Murphy’s best opinions were his emotional dissents, including Wolf v Colorado, 338 US 25 (1949) and Korematsu v United States, 323 US 214 (1944). In Korematsu, the Court’s majority upheld the evacuation and subsequent internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Murphy wrote that the exclusion order exceeded constitutional power and fell into the ‘‘ugly abyss of racism.’’ He concluded:
Racial discrimination in any form and in any degree has no justifiable part whatever in our democratic way of life. It is unattractive in any setting but it is utterly revolting among a
free people who have embraced the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States. 323 US at 233.
The powerful dissent was a repudiation of President Roosevelt’s policy and demonstrated Murphy’s courage to rule according to his judicial conscience. The opinion is commemorated at the Frank Murphy Museum in Harbor Beach as one of the State Bar’s ‘‘Michigan Legal Milestones.’’