Although February is the shortest month of the year, it is the month that has the most birthdays of historic Michigan Supreme Court justices — 12.
John McDonald was born on this date (Feb. 8) in 1865 and joined the Court by appointment at age 57. He served from March 29, 1922 through December 31, 1933, and was succeeded on the Court by George Bushnell. You can read his biography here and his memorial here.
Also born on this date was Franz Kuhn in 1872. Justice Kuhn was appointed to the Court at age 40 by Governor Chase Osborn to replace Charles Blair (son of war governor Austin Blair). Justice Kuhn served until 1919 when he resigned to become president of the Michigan Bell Telephone Company.
He died in 1926. You can read his memorial here. His biography is here.
We hope that you will consider making a contribution today to honor someone important in your life. Perhaps it was a law school professor or your first boss who inspired you to care deeply about the law. Or, maybe it was hearing the stories of the Michigan Supreme Court from the Justices themselves in our Oral History interviews. Whatever it was that inspired you, when you make a contribution to the Society, you help to support our mission of increasing public awareness of Michigan’s legal heritage. Please give!
Updated: If you use Facebook, you can make a contribution via this link, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will match it, up to $1,000.00.
Tweet to us @micourthistory with who inspired you to care deeply about the law, using the hash tag #mygivingstory
On this date one year ago, the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan announced that it had acquired the papers of Dr. Jack Kevorkian.
The 1994 Michigan Supreme Court case of People v. Kevorkian was featured in our Verdict of History project, which can be read on our website here and in our recent book The Michigan Supreme Court Historical Reference Guide, Second Edition, which can be purchased on Amazon or wherever books are sold.
The Bentley Historical Library maintains the papers of many former Michigan Supreme Court justices. View the full list by visiting this link.
The Society’s executive director has been attending the annual conference of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) for many years. It was one of the first things that I did when I began working here in 2008, traveling to Rochester, New York, with former executive director Angela Bergman. On that trip, we sat on the actual bus that Rosa Parks rode in — you may recall that we awarded the Dorothy Comstock Riley Legal History Award in memory of Mrs. Parks in 2006. Read more about that here.
This year, the national conference’s location is Detroit! This means that more representatives of the Society’s Board of Directors will be able to take part, joining me in sessions this evening and on Friday. I will return to our office on Monday, September 19th — just in time to prepare for the State Bar’s Annual Meeting in Grand Rapids where we will be an exhibitor. I hope to see you on my travels!
On September 8, 1890, Big Four Justice Isaac Christiancy died. He was 78 years old. He passed away just six months after fellow Big Four Justice James V. Campbell. Christiancy had resigned from the Court fifteen years earlier, upon his appointment to the U.S. Senate in 1875. He did not stay in Washington, D.C. for long. A scandal involving a woman led to his resignation, and President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed him U.S. Minister to Peru in 1879. One of the more interesting lines from Justice Christiancy’s memorial, printed in the Michigan Reports of the time: “After serving as senator he entered the more difficult field of diplomacy. Appointed minister to Peru, he saw that unfortunate people forced to succumb to the superior powers of Chili.” (emphasis added for effect — it was in fact the beginning of the War of the Pacific, fought by Peru and Bolivia on one side and Chile on the other, not a problem with hearty bean stew that befell his time there). In 1881, Justice Christiancy returned to Lansing to resume the practice of law and it is there he lived until his death on this date 126 years ago.
Society members received the summer newsletter in their mailboxes this week. You can read the articles online here. But, we encourage you to join the Society to support our work of preserving the history of Michigan’s legal heritage. To start a new membership or renew the one you already have, please visit this link. As a 501(c)(3), contributions including membership dues are tax-deductible!
Last week I put aside the summer newsletter that we are designing to stop by the Scott Sunken Garden in downtown Lansing. The property was once the home of Michigan Supreme Court Justice Edward Cahill (written about on this blog earlier this year). That day, August 3rd, just so happened to be the 173rd birthday of Cahill. As I had yet to visit the threatened space, my daughter and I ventured over. In the background of the photo from that day, between the trees, is a view of the Boji Tower where the Fraser firm is located. That firm was founded by another Michigan Supreme Court Justice, Rollin Person, in 1883. Upon Justice Person’s death, Cahill had this to say about his friend “…but whether he was with me or against me I could but admire the careful diligence with which he looked after the interests of his clients.” (Read the rest of the Special Session here)
The address of the property is 125 W Malcolm X St, Lansing, Michigan 48933, and shares a parking lot with the Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame, where several of our women justices have been honored.
On this date 130 years ago, former Michigan Supreme Court Justice David Johnson died after a lingering illness caused by blood poisoning from a scratched finger.
Besides serving on the Michigan Supreme Court from 1852 to 1857, Johnson was active in the fight to move the state capitol from Detroit to central Michigan.
Learn more about this historic justice on his official biography page here.
On this date in 1881, future Michigan Supreme Court Justice Emerson R. Boyles was born near Charlotte, Michigan. Boyles worked his way up from prosecuting attorney to probate judge to deputy attorney general under William Potter (who he later would succeed onto the Michigan Supreme Court). Boyles was also quite notable for having authored the Michigan Criminal Index, Probate Blanks, and Probate Manual, as well as supervising the Compiled Laws of 1929 — he is shown holding a copy of that book in his official portrait. Boyles served on the Michigan Supreme Court from August 8, 1940 to December 31, 1956. He was replaced on the Court by another justice well known for his writing skills: John Voelker.
Read the transcript of Justice Boyles’ post-humous portrait dedication on September 8, 1982. Boyles died on November 30, 1960.
Last Fall, former Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley released his autobiography The People’s Lawyer: The Life and Times of Frank J. Kelley, the Nation’s Longest-Serving Attorney General, written with Jack Lessenberry. For those who have had the pleasure of knowing Frank Kelley, you will recognize his storytelling style immediately. For the rest of the population — and in particular those who do not yet know his legacy in Michigan — I hope that you will read this book. It is “living history” in the truest sense of the term.
Born in Detroit on December 31, 1924, Frank Kelley not only lived through an important time in our state and nation’s history, but was also instrumental in helping to shape that history. During the 37 years that Frank Kelley served as Michigan’s Attorney General, he transformed that office from a political stepping stone into a state entity that worked for the people, crusading for consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental regulation. He served with five Governors, and describes in vivid yet never boring detail the separation of powers between these elected offices.
This book is as rich as the history that Frank Kelley has lived. For those who are interested in Michigan’s legal history it is a must-read. But it is as a call to service that I most highly recommend it. Frank Kelley gives practical examples of how he managed a political career that spanned nearly four decades without even the whiff of a political scandal. These are lessons by which we all can benefit from learning.
He ends the book by writing, “You may not realize it, but old men have dreams, too, and here’s mine: that some young person will read these words and think: Wow. This guy spent his life in public service…. And he helped make people’s lives better.”
Buy the book here
Read about the Eternal General here — an article that mentions Frank Kelley’s service to the Society’s Board of Directors since 1999
Listen to Frank Kelley’s oral history here
Frank Kelley is shown here presenting the Society’s Law Prize to a student at the MSU College of Law in 2012.